Winnie Mandela and Apartheid’s Hidden History

A new documentary on Winne Mandela – called simply Winnie – is fascinating both for what it reveals about the hidden history of South Africa’s transition away from apartheid and for its relevance to other, current struggles. I highly recommend that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn get his hands on a copy as soon as possible.

As someone who grew up vaguely aware of the apartheid story unfolding nightly on the UK news, I was shocked to see how different those events looked decades later, seen through more critical eyes. The new perspective is long overdue: Winnie Mandela died at the beginning of this month.

For those who bewail the “fake news” of the corporate media as if its mendacity was some kind of recent development, Winnie is a useful corrective, reminding us that the modern media’s primary role has always been to maintain a political, social and economic environment conducive to the accumulation of wealth by the rich and powerful.

Although the film briefly recounts the history of apartheid, its strength lies in its emphasis on Winnie Mandela as the embodiment of the liberation struggle after much of the ANC leadership, including her husband, had been locked away on Robben Island. She became the ANC’s centre of gravity and its spokeswoman, both locally and internationally, the flickering light that the apartheid regime dared not snuff out for fear of provoking a popular uprising. She became “the Mother of the Nation”.

The film’s focus is very…

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