Punishing Winnie Mandela

Andrew Donaldson on the indignity of having the town formerly known as Brandfort named after you


IT won’t be anytime soon, but I believe scientists will eventually be able to quantify the “thinking”, if I may put it that way, involved in renaming the Free State town of Brandfort “Winnie Mandela”. 

It’s baffling that supporters of the Mother Of All Struggles are not up in arms about the decision. She may have been cruelly banished there by the apartheid authorities, but she loathed every inch of the place. 

But then part of me believes that the ANC is welcome to do what they will with Brandfort. Like most of the country’s rural towns, the place is a dump, beggared and broken by misrule.

Once a neat rural centre serving the local agricultural sector and known for its schools, community health services, quality sport and recreational facilities, it has fallen into disrepair. With full-time employment opportunities for just three per cent of its residents, what life there is now scrapes by on welfare. Simply put, it can’t be broken any further because it’s already in pieces. 

Why would the party then “honour” one of its leading brand figures, one of the most recognisable of all its “struggle icons”, in this way? It’s a bit like naming a pit latrine after Angie Motshekga, the basic education minister, because these appalling facilities remain a standout feature at so many schools. 

Does the ANC not realise just how squalid and cack-handed its self-mythologising must appear to thinking adults? Could they be that deeply in thrall of their own imbecility? 

Well, as we have seen on so many occasions, yes and quite definitely yes again.

The motives behind Brandfort’s rebranding, if I may, are clear enough. As Nathi Mthethwa, the sports, arts and culture minister, was quoted as saying: “The name change is just one of the ways that the department is honouring Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy. As we approach Women’s Day, it is pivotal that our geographical names reflect the history of such icons.”

Such churlish nationalism from Mthethwa is not new. He has been bothering us for years with chatter of submissive children saluting flags and singing anthems like North Koreans. And why not? Being totalitarian in nature and arrested in development, mired forever in the postcolonial 1960s, his party happily peddles the vision of a glorious future based on a fabled past and its struggle against apartheid. 

Yet the veneration of “liberation” grows more frenzied and feckless with each passing anniversary or holiday. There are signs of panic and desperation as the failures pile up. Populist opposition grows both within the ANC and without. They’re unable to move the goalposts, much less kick a ball at them, but they can at least rename the stadium and, in the process, enjoy a good smirk among themselves at the expense of the previously advantaged. “Social cohesion,” they call it.

This absurd immaturity does allow an illusion of control, of being in charge — if not of the country’s welfare, then certainly the remoulding and whitewashing of its history. In this regard, Winnie Mandela (the myth and not the town) is fiercely contested territory. Consider how the EFF and Julius Malema have boldly claimed her as their own. 

Speaking at her funeral in 2018, Malema tore into those who had attempted to isolate the renegade following the brutal killing of teenaged United Democratic Front activist Stompie Sepei by her security guards in December 2018. It was a rant of breathtaking hypocrisy. Winnie would no doubt have approved.

“[Some] of those who sold you to the regime are here and are crying louder than all of us who stood by you. The UDF cabal that distance itself from you is here crying crocodile tears after disowning you at a critical moment hoping the regime will finish [you] off,” Malema said.

“All of those who resigned from the NEC of the [ANC] women’s league because they said they can’t be led by a criminal, they are here playing all important roles at your funeral, can we trust them or should we treat them with suspicion, comrade Winnie We mention these few incidents just to make them aware that we know what they did to you. We see you in your beautiful suits! Betrayers, sell-outs! We see you!”

After a few years standing idly by as the upstarts Winnie-fied their own agendas, the ANC decided to reclaim their millinery veteran. Brandfort, it appears, had been in their sights for a while, and much has been made of the fact that, during her years there, from 1977 to 1985, she set up a township creche with the assistance of Operation Hunger and started a clinic near her residence with the help of the greatly respected Dr Abu Baker Asvat. 

It was of course later widely held that she ordered Asvat’s assassination to cover up her alleged involvement in Stompie Sepei’s murder. 

But let’s not dwell on such ugliness. The ANC definitely won’t, and there’ll almost certainly be no mention of the circumstances of Asvat’s death when party officials gather to celebrate the transformative milestone that is the renaming of the town.

Neither will there be any embarrassing reminders of Madikizela-Mandela’s true feelings towards the place. In her autobiography, Winnie Mandela: A Life (with Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrop, Zebra, 2003), she described Brandfort: 

“A drab and dusty rural hamlet with unimaginative houses, an old-fashioned two-storey hotel, small shops lining the main street and a pervading atmosphere of lethargy and inactivity… The forlorn township had no official name but the black residents had baptised it ‘Phathakahle’, meaning handle with care…”

Elsewhere it was reported that her life there was unbearable, and she began to drink heavily to cope with the stress of day-to-day hardships. Her obituary in the Guardian noted: “There were also a number of violent incidents in which she was allegedly involved, including an assault on a nine-year-old child for which she was prosecuted, but acquitted.”

A dusty vale of great unhappiness, then. But, perversely, Mthethwa feels it should be a site of Disneyfied pilgrimage. In December 2019, his department announced that her two-roomed township home, routinely described as a tiny shack when she lived there, had been restored to its former glory and was now the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Brandfort House Museum. 

Among its interesting attractions, it was reported, was a parking lot for visitors and a “multipurpose centre with WiFi facilities”. 

Pleased as Punch, a department official declared: “Winnie Madikizela-Mandela House will now be part of the prized national monuments and sites that fall under the resistance and liberation heritage route programme – one of the premier departmental mandates to preserve and promote the legacies of our heroes and heroines as an integral part of our cultural heritage.”

This “prized” site is still not open to the public. However, and typical of liberation’s heritage, it seems that, over the years, the project served as a fairly generous cash cow for some connected comrades.

In March last year it was claimed that in 2005 some R4-million had been allocated to restore the derelict dwelling and that this money simply disappeared without trace. Work on the “museum” was abandoned for a dozen years or so, and the house fell into disrepair until 2018, when the project was resumed. The museum is guarded round the clock by security provided by the local district municipality pending its official opening, which has yet to be announced.

But however grand the opening may be — and, make no mistake, it will be grand; these people love spending our money — it’s difficult to imagine any normal person wanting to spend time there.

The town does have a few other attractions. Its history as a place of banishment predates the apartheid era. The British built concentration camps here during the South African War. Almost 1 300 Boer women and children died in the Dwyersdorp camp, while an untold number of Africans perished in the adjacent Nooitgedacht camp. The former’s cemetery, opened to the public in 1962, was declared a national monument in 1985.

More happily, the first aircraft built in Africa was designed and assembled in the town in 1909 by the engineer John Weston. It’s not known whether it actually flew, but that is neither here nor there. Weston did much to pioneer aviation in South Africa and his home is now a museum. Remember to drop by, next time you’re in town.  ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Lost in the wilderness

I notice that in one of his recent outbursts, Carl Niehaus identifies himself as “ambassador” on his letterhead. Grandiose as it may sound, he is entitled to this indulgence, having been mistakenly appointed ambassador to the Netherlands in 1996. By then his formal career as struggle bullshitter was well underway: in February 2008, it was found that he had falsely claimed to have earned a master’s degree and doctorate in theology (summa cum laude) from Utrecht University while serving as a diplomat.

Carl was, however, back in his familiar RET fibber-in-chief guise this week when he took to Twitter to warn of the “seriousness” and “potential consequences” of the “continuing illegal political imprisonment” of Jacob Zuma. His concern for the apparently ailing Accused Number One is touching, and let’s just say that, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), we too wish uBaba a speedy recovery and do hope to see him back on his feet as soon as possible. In the dock, of course, and in leg irons if needs be.

As for those “consequences” weighing heavily on the ambassador’s mind, it is perhaps a good thing that, should it come to the worst, we already have a monument to Msholozi, albeit one that has been thrown up out of harm’s way in Groot Marico in North West province. Those who stumble across it do wonder about its portrait, and why it bears no resemblance to our latest prisoner of conscience. 

Perhaps in the centuries to come archeologists may scrape away at the ruins of this brutalist rubbish and be puzzled that here, oddly, were people who apparently worshipped Elmer Fudd, a legendary hunter of cartoon rabbits.

More trouble with names

There’s been a bit of a hoo-hah here in the shires following a call from from Chaheti Bansal, a Californian food blogger, that the term “curry” be dropped from restaurant menus as it’s rooted in colonialism and misused in ignorance. The Times quoted her as telling her followers: “There’s a saying that the food in India changes every 100 kilometres and yet we’re still using this umbrella term popularised by white people who couldn’t be bothered to learn the actual names of our dishes.”

Many agree. One London chef, Cyrus Todiwala, told the newspaper that, while the term isn’t “racist”, it nevertheless remains one of the banes of his life. “I have been trying hard to make anyone listening [understand] that Indian food is not curry,” he said. “When people go for Thai food no one says ‘I’m going for a curry,’ They say let’s go for some Thai food. Yet as you open the menu there are several dishes listed using the word curry. Whereas in most Indian restaurants the word curry is seldom listed unless they do coastal food, all of which are with coconut milk. I would be happy if British people didn’t call all Indian food curry, and regard it as Indian cuisine.”

Hmmm. Two points. Firstly, while not racist per se, the term “curry” has been weaponised by the EFF as part of their campaign of race hatred against South Africans of Asian descent. And secondly, chicken tikka masala may now be one of the UK’s national dishes, but these people still cannot serve up a decent bunny.