Our liberation history is one of the greatest resources of our nation. The efforts of legions of freedom fighters must be remembered
In the patriarchal history told of liberation struggles we often don’t tell the “her story” – how the wives of struggle leaders and activists contributed to our liberty, of their sacrifice and noble endeavours as the home-guard and of the gift they gave us in sacrificing their husbands and children.
People often speak of John Dube, the first president of the ANC, but not of Nokuthula Dube and her undeniable contribution.
What would Walter Sisulu have been without Albertina or Joe Slovo without Ruth First?
What would Oliver Tambo have done without Adelaide, or Nelson Mandela without Winnie?
All these great women fought and were as political as their husbands, but had a different role to play.
It was a delight on Valentine’s Day to unveil the bronze statue of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as part of the Long March to Freedom.
It brings Nelson and Winnie back together, as they were in the struggle, holding hands and walking stride for stride into our collective memory and national consciousness.
Coincidentally, Oliver and Adelaide were the matchmakers for Nelson and Winnie.
In the mid-1950s my mother and Winnie Madikizela shared a room at the Helping Hand Hostel in Jeppe Street while training as nurses.
At the time the Mandela and Tambo law partnership was in full swing and, having told Winnie about Oliver’s partner, Nelson, she was introduced to him and the rest, as you know, is history.
And just as my parents had many struggle children, we had many struggle aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters.
Winnie was a special aunt to me and it was the greatest pleasure to work with such talented artists and a great professional team to create a world-class sculpture of her.
Winnie Mandela’s place in the annals of the liberation history and heritage is secure and undeniable.
In her defiance she gave courage to men and women. In her compassion she comforted the oppressed, depressed, suppressed and fatigued by a life of hell.
In her stubborn refusal to be beaten and broken, she inspired generations of people to resist.
Powerless as they might have felt, by her example she gave them power, the spirit of no surrender, of forward ever, backward never.
People might try to diminish her on a personal level, but none can deny that she was one of our warrior queens, not the only one of her era, but in our glorious revolution, she was a Mother of the Nation and a midwife of our liberty.
No one in the pantheon was perfect, or without fault – all were ordinary humans, who did extraordinary things in their lives in service to their people.
We must memorialise them for future generations who must be inspired for the struggles they will have to fight in the future.
There is a saying that “our past does not define us, it prepares us”.
The Long March to Freedom shows South Africans at our best over 350 years of struggle. Their story is our story.
Our liberation history and heritage is one of the greatest resources our nation has. Ours was the greatest international solidarity movement of the 20th century.
It is this generation’s duty to ensure that those who did not live through it will know of the efforts of legions of freedom fighters, know of South Africa’s journey to liberty, because all that sacrifice was for us to have the society we hold so dear today.
The Long March to Freedom seeks to plot that journey, to tell future generations, black and white, tourists – domestic and foreign – about the sacrifices of these freedom fighters.
The only reward we can give them is to remember who they were, what they did and that they loved us more than they loved themselves.
The Long March to Freedom is an off-campus school; it is a permanent education for our people, enshrining national identity.
It is also part of the cultural economy, heritage tourism that is accessible, audacious and emotive.
People who have visited our shores since 1994 have often said to me – we have seen the beauty of your landscapes, the Kruger National Park and the beaches.
However, they felt upon leaving that they still didn’t know us as a people.
And often asked where they should go to understand who we are, how we got to freedom, who led us across the mountains, through the treacherous paths and valleys we traversed – the countless brave souls who never saw freedom but ensured that one day we would.
In today’s world tourists seek otherness, culture, difference and an understanding of other peoples.
Heritage is the show business of history and interpreting, exhibiting and showing our past in an interactive way through the main personalities who walked through the pages of our nation’s history.
We want youngsters 50 or 100 years from now to not only read about Lilian Ngoyi, Charlotte Maxeke or Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; we want them to know what they looked like, how they dressed, how dignified and beautiful they were; to be able to hug them and take pictures with them and swell with pride at their achievements.
For them to know that they spring from a fountain of greatness, that they must be forever proud of their lineage and national history and, as a result, walk tall among humanity with the self-respect and dignity that comes from knowledge of self and as South Africans with a shared past and a shared destiny.
I feel confident that one day our government and the progressive private sector will provide the resources needed for the Long March to Freedom, to make it Africa’s greatest monument to liberty and one of the finest examples of liberation heritage tourism in the world.
In his book, The Founders: The Origins of the ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa, André Odendaal speaks of “the immense sacrifice and effort over a long time by the oppressed to bring democracy to South Africa”, and calls on us to help overcome the ignorance that still prevails about this country’s rich history and to use that history to inspire us to deepen the democracy we have inherited.
Long Live Winnie-Madikizela Mandela.
“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.”
. Tambo is CEO of the National Heritage Project, and the son of Adelaide and Oliver Tambo
We need to teach young people about their history and our hard-won freedom. Do you agree?
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