Melanie Verwoerd

Bizarre political theatre surrounds Ma Winnie's death

2018-04-04 08:19
ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule (File)

ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule (File)

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One of the things I have learnt through painful experience is how opportunistic people can be around a famous person's death. Everyone wants to be seen and wants to claim to have been the closest of those who were close to the person that passed.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's death was never going to be any different. Despite being ill for a while it seems she suddenly took a turn for the worse and unlike with Madiba's death, the media, ANC and country were unprepared.

After the news leaked that Ma Winnie had passed on, a press conference was hastily convened at the Netcare hospital where she had died. Ministers Jeff Radebe and Gwede Mantashe spoke on behalf of the ANC. A representative of the family and a Methodist bishop, who had apparently prayed with her that morning, also said a few words.

After the bishop spoke, someone from the ANC chaplaincy jumped up to make the point that "Mama Winnie was broader than just the one denomination, the Methodist Church".

He emphasised that the Methodist church would remain the "anchor church", but that "the interfaith, interdenominational community of this country would also minister to the family" and take part in her burial.

One has to ask why this was necessary. It seems, as was the case after Madiba's death, that some in the religious community want to make sure that they will also take center stage during the public remembrance and last rites of Mama Winnie. Not very Christian!

From a political point of view, some interesting developments occurred later that afternoon. About an hour after the Netcare press conference, the ANC national spokesperson, Pule Mabe, via the ANC media office sent out a press alert. It read: "The Secretary General of the African National Congress, Comrade Ace Magashule, will address the nation this evening on the untimely passing of ANC Stalwart, Mama Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela. The live broadcast will be carried on SABC channels at 19:00 this evening."

This seemed really bizarre. Why would Ace Magashule do a live address via the national broadcaster, when we had not heard from the president? Although ministers often rather pretentiously announce that they will be addressing the nation, the live feed via the SABC usually indicates a matter of national importance and is reserved for the president or someone very senior in government.

Of course, this was a matter of national importance and everyone, both locally and abroad, was watching. So why had we not heard from the president of the ANC and South Africa, yet Magashule, together with his buddy Mabe, announces that he will address the nation?

We waited with bated breaths to hear what Ace had to say.

However, minutes before 19:00 and without any media alerts, President Cyril Ramaphosa came on air. I doubt very much that this was a coincidence. What the reason for the timing might have been, Magashule was totally upstaged.

Of course, that did not deter him. Mabe sent out another press alert at 19:10 to say that Magashule will be addressing the nation at 19:00 (it was now 10 minutes past the time) and that it will be carried by the SABC.

A few minutes later the SABC anchors announced that they will be speaking to "somebody from Bloemfontein who knows the Free State very well". The anchor welcomed "the ANC's Ace Magashule" and on a split screen Magashule was seen reading through his press statement, presumably for the first time.

Even when he was asked for his immediate thoughts and feelings about Mama Winnie's passing he glanced only briefly at the camera. He then started to read the script out loud. Five minutes into his statement the SABC started to show some visuals of Winnie Mandela and when he finally finished, they thanked Magashule and cut to something else.

It was impossible not to wonder what that was all about, but whatever Magashule had tried to achieve had gone down like a lead balloon.

Just before 21:00 Ramaphosa visited the Madikizela-Mandela house and addressed the media outside the house afterwards. This time he was flanked by Mabe, who looked distinctly unhappy and uneasy.

This might all just be a product of a disorganised ANC and the inexperience of Mabe. But I somehow doubt it. It seems far more likely that it was part of the continued factionalism in the ANC and the continued attempts to undermine Ramaphosa.

Shamefully, it seems that those who "want to take the ANC back" wanted to use Mama Winnie's death to take center stage in the clamouring for power – something Mama Winnie would have hated.

And of course the two cherries on the cake later that evening were Carl Niehaus who (sans camouflage) also rocked up at Mama Winnie's house to say what a hero she was for "fighting the Boers", and Nomvula Mokonyane who spoke of how she and Mama Winnie often spoke about the "wrong things". Apparently they frequently talked about "how other people were badly dressed, and (had) ugly make ups (sic) and handbags". Eish!

Hamba Kahle Mama Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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Read more on:    anc  |  ace maga­shule  |  winnie ­madikizela-mandela

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