Defiant. Resilient. Unshakable. Some of the words that come to mind when the image of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela comes to mind. A natural leader who was driven by what she believed in, even through controversy and persecution, she was an unapologetic woman who always held her head up high. You could not bully her.
It’s interesting to me that the women who seem to make the greatest impact in history are the most polarizing ones - because the love for Winnie Mandela is just as intense as the hatred some feel towards her. She broke so many rules, but in her words she would have done it all again. She was a woman whose first heartbreak - watching the imprisonment of her husband Nelson Mandela - became her most impactful liberalization. Isn’t it profound how painful moments of our lives can point us in the direction of destiny if we channel our energy well?
They say well behaved women never make history, but it begs the question: what is good behavior? She played a central role in keeping Nelson Mandela’s name alive and for igniting feminism in South Africa while he was incarcerated, and got into trouble for doing so because apparently that’s “bad behavior”. Atrocities were committed by many during the struggle that we all condone, yet somehow Winnie was forever crucified for her alleged role - her male counterparts were able to move on. Probably because she was “badly behaved”. She was a women who refused to bow down to a status quo that she felt was wrong.
We find ourselves through love, and our experiences with the things we love shape our entire lives. I believe she was driven by protecting the honour of her husband, and stumbled across her passion and purpose through activism and nation building instead. She discovered the possibilities that can exist when the strength in a woman is harnessed. This is why she didn’t die, but she multiplied. Because through every moment of her life, her head was never bowed though she paid the price of creating her path. That path has been source of strength and drive to so many women. What’s most intriguing about her was that she didn’t regret it - even when the consequences were undesirable - she owned everything about her journey.
On this day, as we commemorate the 1 year anniversary of her passing, I hope we can reflect about the lessons from the life of this legend - refuse to be bullied, it’s ok to be unpopular, at times you may have to stand alone but don’t let that stop you from following your heart, let love lead you further into your journey and most importantly - stop worrying about fitting into the cookie cutter mould of good behavior.