There was nothing of the Siddhartha about her. Modest and sombre middle ways are not the stuff of revolutionary ardour. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s mark on history was always going to render the violent normal, the blood stain a perceived, even psychopathic necessity. If society itself was prone to sanguinary realisations, she would oblige and flourish within its confines.
Everyone has their take on the Madikizela-Mandela legacy, and a few are compiled in the publication The Penguin Dictionary of South African Quotations (1999). These observations point to a terrifyingly colourful variety, a figure part saint and part gargoyle. She was “a political figure of almost Shakespearean tragic proportions,” opined Judge Dennis Davis. Her hands dripped with the blood of South Africa’s people, went a reflective Xoliswa Falati, who formerly knew her and claimed to have gone to prison for her.
As for those defenders of the apartheid state? “Whenever her name was mentioned in security circles,” came that rueful assassin and former commander of the Vlakpaas counterinsurgency unit, Eugene de Kock, “a shudder went through the ranks.”
The problem with such assessments of ecstatic violence, if it be a problem, is its circular hopelessness. Is the circle ever broken to enable an escape to be forged for the peace makers? To place her in dramatic pose and see her as Shakespearean leaves the mistaken sense that she is more dramatic than volitional,…