On Winnie: A Follow-Up

On 2 April I published a piece wherein I condemned Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for the role she played in the death of Stompie. I made some sloppy and unprofessional mistakes that I feel I need to admit to and correct. I’m going to quote the phrases of my...

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On 2 April I published a piece wherein I condemned Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for the role she played in the death of Stompie. I made some sloppy and unprofessional mistakes that I feel I need to admit to and correct.

I’m going to quote the phrases of my original piece directly and then proceed with correcting my unnecessary errors.

“Madikizela-Mandela allegedly initiated the beatings with a sjambok.”

This statement is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, I did not state that this was according to the Sunday Star’s investigative journalists as quoted by the New York Times in a news article in 1989. I did not cite my source correctly. Secondly, the hyperlink to the article is in the succeeding paragraph and thus not in the relevant paragraph. I pride myself on my diligence when it comes to citing my sources correctly, but I failed dismally in doing so in this instance.

“In 1991, Judge Michael Stegmann sentenced Madikizela-Mandela to six years in prison for her part in the kidnapping of the youths and for assaulting Stompie.”

Winnie was found guilty of accessory to assault and not for assault itself. Although I corrected this error in an editorial note at the end of my original piece, it was still a sloppy error that ended up in me contributing to the spread of fake news, something which I despise and I feel that I have to apologise for. Her conviction for accessory to assault was later overturned on appeal. I once chastised Nickolaus Bauer for doing the same thing, but I now know how easy it is to make a human error.

Another aspect that I failed to incorporate into my original piece was the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the court a quo differed in their findings on whether Winnie was present at her home in Soweto when the youths were assaulted there. Whilst I honestly still suspect she was, I still should have mentioned this crucial controversial dispute of facts. An error on my part for which I take full responsibility. Interestingly enough though, her alibi was that she was being driven elsewhere at the time of the assaults on the youths, something which the driver in question denied after her court trial.

There are, however, a couple of criticisms against me that I need to respond to.

“Fuck you, white trash!”

Okay cool beans, boet. Whatever floats your boat.

“Why have you not written an article on the crimes of the Apartheid government committed against Winnie?

There is one sole reason this piece focused on the crimes of Winnie and not on the atrocities committed against her by the National Party’s thugs: because the mainstream narrative is that she was an untarnished saint who deserves no critique; the other side of her had to be shown. The vast majority of South Africans know about the thuggish and inhumane nature of the Apartheid government’s actions and do not see them as untainted heroes (apart from the odd Steve disciple). I honestly did not see the need to tell people things they already knew. But for those who don’t know, Winnie was subjected to extremely inhumane treatment such as being banished to Brandfort where she had to stay for 10 odd years without basic amenities, held in solitary confinement for almost a year, tortured, and subjected to house arrest.

“The TRC was a farce.”

Well, I agree that it was in the sense that criminals got off the hook for the atrocities they committed. That includes a lot of freedom fighters as well.

“All news reports around the end of Apartheid were fake news spread by Stratcom.”

Blanket statements do not render all news reports on Winnie’s alleged crimes as fake by default. Stratcom did indeed exist, but their influence has been exaggerated. The cost of media infiltration from 1989 to 1990 only cost the Apartheid state R50 000. They only had 40 people working for them, 20 of whom were “used” without their knowledge. Of the fourty informers, only four were full-time journalists, which constitutes a small proportion of the journalists in South Africa at that time.

Of course, one cannot deny that Stratcom did indeed have an influence on the media. Articles critical of Winnie appeared in leading British newspapers in 1991 as well as in Vanity Fair in the US. A document entitled “Dissemination of suitable material re Winnie Mandela abroad: Discreditation [sic] of the ANC”, said a substantial mass of material was forwarded to the media with the objective of using Winnie to discredit the ANC. Ironically enough, Paul Erasmus of the Apartheid security police, who was part of Stratcom’s operations and testified at the TRC, was the only person whose TRC testimony regarding Stompie’s death that did not implicate Winnie, but rather Jerry Richardson and only him.

I hope I have corrected my unprofessional errors that I made in my previous piece on Winnie. I wrote it when my focus level was not where it should have been. I made mistakes, and for that I apologise. I also hope that I have responded sufficiently to the main points of critique levelled against me. In the words of Verashni Pillay: “There’s complicated, and then there’s Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.”

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