Real Housewife of Qunu

2014-12-15 14:00

When they are in their twilight years, most human beings, especially politicians, tend to spend a lot of time thinking about their legacy. They worry about what those left behind will say at their gravesides and how posterity will remember them.

They ask themselves: Will the living say “rest in peace” or will they say “rot in notoriety”? Will the living lay wreaths or will they spit on my grave?

That is why one Mangosuthu Buthelezi loves to remind us that he was once a member of the ANC Youth League, that he and Nelson Mandela corresponded while the latter was in prison, that Albert Luthuli was his mentor and that apartheid would still be reigning supreme if not for him.

It is also the reason Pik Botha always likes to tell us he had the amazing foresight to predict, back in 1986, that South Africa would one day have a black president.

Or why apartheid collaborators like Llewellyn Landers are today the most energetic ANC bullyboys.

It is therefore intriguing that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – a fallen and resurrected icon – would want to spend her twilight years reversing her legacy. Over the past two months, Madikizela-Mandela has been waging an unseemly war against her late former husband. Not that Mandela should be protected game – his legacy should be subjected to as much scrutiny and interrogation as everyone else’s. But what Madikizela-Mandela is bent on doing is tearing it down.

In court papers, in which she seeks to override Mandela’s will and claim his Qunu property in the Eastern Cape for herself, she in effect called him a fraud for passing the property off as his own.

“The deed of grant was irregularly obtained and obviously there was misrepresentation or fraud since the property was obtained by me and not Mr Mandela,” she said.

She was more direct, vicious and catty in an interview with the Daily Dispatch, throwing barbs at Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel.

“I let him live on my property. I wasn’t going to evict him simply because he was married to a third wife. It is such a pity he is no longer there for me to ask what on earth would have brought him to elect that he would take my land and give it away to someone who actually has a whole world in Mozambique because [Machel has] her four houses in Mozambique,” she said.

With each ugly and highly publicised step in this sorry saga, Madikizela-Mandela reduces her standing and dignity. She turns herself into one of those “Real Housewives” characters on TV

who, I’ve been told, spend all day clawing at each other.

It is a massive pity because after a series of scandals in the dying days of the struggle and in the early days of democracy, Madikizela-Mandela had managed to restore her standing in society.

The rogue behaviour of the Mandela United Football Club has receded into distant memory, despite her being convicted of a crime related to the group’s activities. Her very public infidelities, which shamed the nation and brought pain to Mandela, are no longer spoken about.

Very few remember that she was convicted of fraud in a highly publicised trial in the early 2000s.

The fact that she related to Parliament as if she was a casual employee while she was an MP is something that is long forgiven.

Last December, the hearts of South Africans and of the world were warmed when Madikizela-Mandela and Machel were seen comforting each other in the wake of the statesman’s death.

Those images put to bed any notion there would be bad blood between them when the mourning period was over.

If anything, they would be matriarchs who would hold the factions together in the post-Mandela period.

In recent years, she has become a voice of conscience and elderly wisdom in an ANC that is consumed by wealth accumulation and quickly losing touch with its historic mission of bettering the lives of the people.

Dreams of a somewhat harmonious Mandela family were dashed when Madikizela-Mandela unsheathed her claws and let rip. In so doing, she has torn the families apart and restarted the war that was simmering before Mandela’s death.

Why she would do something that is tantamount to legacy suicide is a mystery.

The most plausible reason is she is bitter about being sidelined in the narrative on the greatness of Nelson Mandela.

That while she became his face outside Robben Island and suffered enormously for it, she is today seen as a supporting actress in his life story.

There is also the little matter of her side of

the family receiving virtually nothing in Mandela’s will, something that was occasioned by the fact that they had received (and chowed) their share while he was alive.

If pulling Mandela down is caused by personal or political bitterness, Madikizela-Mandela must realise she is in fact pulling herself down.

It is her legacy, not Mandela’s, that is suffering as a result. She is robbing South Africans of their desire to love her and to entrench in their psyches the image of the courageous and principled fighter she once was.

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