“I am an African grandmother, you can be as frank as you like.”
At 75, with make-up caked for the harsh television lights, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is still beautiful. A necklace of thick pearls hangs from her neck. Below it, another of black pearl
s. She’s a gracious host, and soon journalists, camera crews, producers have forgotten the four hour wait.
This is how a group of young people got to ask one of Africa’s most iconic women about life’s lessons on MTVBase meets…with MTN. It’s the second season of the series that allows young Africans to pick the brains of the continent’s leaders.
In the last season young people from all over the continent met with political leaders such as Africa’s first woman head of state Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Rwandan President Paul Kagame; industry leaders like Aliko Dangote and Richard Branson and entertainers Alicia Keys and film giant Ben Murray-Bruce. This time, the panellists have ranged from veteran activist Desmond Tutu to supermodel Alek Wek.
Tonight Madikizela-Mandela recounts her childhood in rural Pondoland where her father taught the Apartheid syllabus while sneaking in a proud African history. The group present has the privilege of walking with her as she carved various identities from ‘Nelson’s wife’, to freedom fighter, single mother, divorcee, and now politician struggling to find an ideology in a country faced with deep-seated social issues.
“The ANC itself was, in my personal opinion, like a drug. We were so thirsty for freedom but I wish we would have known that political freedom is not economic freedom,” Madikizela-Mandela says, reflecting on the transition from liberation movement to governing administration. “I never knew that my colleague digging the trenches next to me had his eyes set on Mahlamba Ndlopfu, that he had his eyes on the presidential palace.”
Controversy still follows the former first lady of struggle. Days after MTV set up a studio in her living room, Madikizela-Mandela’s name once again made headlines. A letter had leaked to the media in which she complained angrily to leaders of the ANC for the lack of national attention she received. With headlines like “Winnie on the warpath”, the MTVBase episode made the media for her remarks on political hot potatoes. Madikizela-Mandela questioned the effect of South African President Jacob Zuma’s polygamy on gender relations and more than once spoke on economic freedom in a climate where land ownership and nationalization are sensitive issues.
It wasn’t all politics as the conversation turned to upcoming Winnie biopic starring Jennifer Hudson. The Oscar and Grammy winning star clearly holds no pull for Madikizela-Mandela. “A South African story should be told by South Africans. It’s such a tragedy that we are told that for a film to be credible that we have to have someone well known.
Her opinion of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus is equally withering. “It was supposed to be a historical portrayal but it was just a commercial venture. That one incident did not change the game of rugby, but it’s the banks who have the last say.”
With star power of her own, especially in the African diaspora, the living and dining area of Madikizela-Mandela’s home has been converted to her private museum. On the table that hosted the Codesa negotiations for a stable transition at the end of Apartheid, are stacks of framed photographs littered with world icons. Harry Belafonte and Spike Lee smile from a frozen moment in the 1990s.
“I am very sympathetic to the struggle of the African-American. The African American is still hunting for their origin.” Madikizela-Mandela is content to be considered a mother by whomever will have her. Scattered between are mementos, and naïve artwork given as gifts to the woman recognized by many as a mother.
Most controversial of her adopted children is the expelled youth leader Julius Malema who she refers to as her grandchild. Malema, who was quizzed in the first season, regularly visits her home and it was here where he first hid when he was officially kicked out of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
This evening, Madikizela-Mandela is concerned with an altogether different set of young leaders. The grande dame of South African politics is clear about the challenges facing post-democratic youth. “It’s very difficult to espouse a cause in such a materialistic society. You have a more difficult task because you have to try and find those values that keep a society together.”
That is the greatest value of this series. While the merits of programmes like Teen Cribs and endless reality television will always be questionable, the African incarnation of the pioneering music channel remains true to beaming the images of a changing Africa and exciting continent.
“You have to return to the full values of forefathers and find a way to explain and balance a culture that sometimes seems retrogressive,” says Madikizela-Mandela. “We now depend on you young people. Carry the last torch, run the last mile and show us that torch before we close our eyes.”
MTV Base Meets with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela…with MTN will air on 5 September across Africa on MTV Base on satellite platform DSTV and on terrestrial stations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Swaziland, Zambia and Uganda.