While Nelson Mandela is universally seen as a hero and reconciler, the reputation of his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela is significantly less positive. And that while, in the twenty-seven years that her husband was imprisoned, she has continued his struggle. She was passionate about an end to apartheid in South Africa, in order to convey her husband’s message and strengthen his leadership within the ANC. When the situation called for it, she did not shy away from using violence to reinforce that message. Domestic security forces kept a constant eye on her and regularly led to arrests, isolation and even exile, but Winnie always remained competitive and braved the bloody civil war to complete her mission of overthrowing the Apartsheid regime. When Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and elected president four years later and apartheid ended definitively, Winnie’s role became less urgent. She came under fire for various scandals and where Nelson took the path of reconciliation, Winnie stuck to her radical ideas. Divorce was inevitable.
In the documentary “Winnie” (2017), French filmmaker Pascale Lamche shows Winnie’s side of the story. In about an hour and a half, she takes her viewers into the complex life of the now eighty-year-old former “First Lady” of South Africa, who also talks about her role in the turbulent history of her country. The film adheres to chronology, but pays disproportionate attention to the period from 1990 to the present day. Lamche seems to aim to polish up Winnie Mandela’s coat of arms quite a bit; her abuses are written off under the heading “a cat in a corner makes strange jumps”. Winnie was of course also hunted game, that becomes clear thanks to the revelations of Niël Barnard, former head of the internal security service of South Africa. Vic McPherson, formerly an executive at STRATCOM, a propaganda agency of the Apartheid regime, openly admits that false information about Winnie Mandela – including her infidelity and drug use – has been released in order to disperse her and Nelson because they spend a lot of time together. too strong torque.
If you look at it that way, Winnie Mandela is a victim. But there are also things that Lamche downplays, when she really cannot avoid it. Winnie’s damaged reputation is largely due to her role in the murder of 14-year-old James “Stompie” Seipei in 1989. Stompie was active for the United Democratic Front (UDF) from a young age, a movement that pursued the same goals as Mandela’s African National. Congress (ANC). However, Winnie Mandela’s camp was rumored to be an informant for the police, so Winnie ordered her bodyguard Jerry Richardson to kidnap and kill Stompie. Richardson testified against his former employer, but Winnie was ultimately found guilty only of the kidnapping (ordering it). The documentary paints a remarkably one-sided picture of this case, labeling Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who begs Winnie on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 to admit that she has made mistakes, as a hypocrite. Other nefarious matters are completely omitted: her dismissal as Deputy Minister for (allegations of) corruption in 1994 and her conviction for fraud in 2003. Also about her positive statements about the horror method of ‘necklacing’ (the burning alive of ‘traitors’ by them). a burning car tire to hang) is not mentioned at all. Such a smeared face is of course also difficult to polish …
Winnie Mandela is a fascinating woman, with a life story that just screams to be documented. The admiration that filmmaker Pascale Lamche – who received the director’s prize for this film at the Sundance Film Festival – has for this “Mother of the Nation of South Africa” can be explained logically. Winnie’s free-spirited passion, fighting skills and resilience are commendable and her life reads like a girl’s book. Lamche also gives the floor to interesting eyewitnesses from the various parties, to give her portrait depth – including the lead actress herself. She has decided to cover the less beautiful chapters in the life of Winnie Mandela with the mantle of love. The only criticisms come from former representatives of the Apartheid regime, who thus dismisses them as the “bad guys”. “Winnie” looks away pleasantly, but unfortunately gives a distorted picture of reality, which is just as complex as Winnie Mandela herself.