Photo credit: Chris Eason via Flickr.


Note: Publication of this submission, a tribute to Winnie Mandela, is timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on the 8th of March.


How many ways can a heart be broken? (1)


staggering beauty
being barred from continuing to make History

Mama Winnie
your death (like your life)
painted the world red
and broke our collective
feminist heart

Someone once told me
I can count on two fingers
the times Ive been lifted,
held heart to heart (2)

How many times for you?


Its been said that research on
infant mortality in Alex
propelled you to activism

From then
daringly astute’ (3)
You were there MamWinnie
When few leaders were

At a time of Sharpeville Massacre
At a time of Langa Massacre
       Uitenhage Massacre
       Matola Massacre
       Maseru Massacre
At a time of Sebokeng Night Vigil Massacre
At a time of Boipatong Massacre
Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela was
And she protested.
At a time of Robert Sobukwes poisonous death
At a time of Steve Bikos gruesome death
At a time of Soloman Mahlangus execution at the gallows
At a time of Bheki Mlangeni blown by parcel bomb
At a time of Chris Hanis coldblooded murder: short, dirty and
Nomzamo was there and fiercely protested!’ (4)

From the time of the Federation of South African Women
To the time of the Black Womens Federation
At the Fort, with Fatima Meer, Vesta Smith, Cecelia Palmer
You were there: uniting, politicizing

At a time of Koevoet and 21 Battalion
At a time of Eugene de Koks Vlakplaas and askaris
At a time of state sponsored violence
At a time when people were pierced with spears and butchered
      when people were thrown from moving trains
Nomzamo was there
And aggrieved.’ (5)

I ask
Who held you?


She dared to survive
She dared not to be a victim
Above all
She was focused
She taught: To be a hero
You need only be yourself’ (6)

We wanted to bury her traditionally
In our way
She could not be boxed
Neither in life, neither in death
She emancipated herself from all boxes
And shared her whole self with us
If we could be like her
Corruption would be eliminated’ (7)

Madam Speaker, allow me to say
All protocols observed
I would like to greet all the women here
And all the women of South Africa
Sis Winnie showed us
That women can be revolutionaries’ (8)

Like you,
like people in the streets of
Kenya, South Korea, Mexico
holding on though they feel unheld
I pledge
my two fingers and

Entire being
I can and will hold. (9)



Bezuidenhout brought me the following items: In one dixie there were a few glucose sweets, 2 halves, beef sticks, 2 rotten oranges (2 pieces of cheese unwrapped). In the other dixie were the following tinned foods, all emptied into the one dixie and spilling over:

1 tinned peas
1 tinned green beans
2 spaghetti in tomato sauce
1 biryani – curry and rice

The water from the tinned peas and beans was not drained, the whole thing was a shocking mess. Even a dog could not possibly eat food served in this manner. As the food was handed to me by the prisoner accompanying Bezuidenhout the latter burst out laughing.’ (10)



Got only half the medical treatment (Inderol and Valoid). Not given the white mixture I take three times a day. No (Tofranil), no injection. No exercise. No explanation given about my clothes, books, etc. Got the prison supply of milk and bread. Gave the milk away,  kept the bread for my colleagues.’ (11)


When banished to House No. 802
Under constant surveillance, renewed isolation
You found the strength
To build from bare ground:
a soup kitchen, vegetable gardens, crèche
the ANC has not built
across the country in
a quarter century

Mama, the Winnie Mandela Informal Settlement
Is here
They named their settlement
After you
While you were still alive’ (12)

At your death
A poet asks
What does it mean
to be without clothing
        without a toilet
        without sanitary towels
for more than a year?’ (13)

A journalist responds:
As a country, we failed to do the archiving, documenting and thinking about how we would even begin to make sense of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, how to go about memorialising a giantMany editors, senior managers and reporters can tell you what it looks like when we are serious about remembering someone well, with the gravitas they deserve. If you ask the same editors and reporters, they will tell you that these past two weeks after Mamas death didnt come close.’ (14)

As each of them disavowed these lies, I had to ask myself:
Why had they sat on the truth and waited till my mothers death to tell it.
I was particularly angered by the former police commissioner George Fivaz’ (15)

Divide and rule
was a strategy of Apartheid
It has succeeded to this day
The aftermath of MamWinnies death provides
One more piece of proof’ (16)


Still, MamWinnie
A woman whose birth was rejected
At death you mobilised 40,000 in Soweto
And more globally
I ask:

You may answer:
If they failed in those nine Xhosa wars, I am one of them and I will start from where those Xhosas left off and get my land back’ (17)

You may answer:
It was him, Tata, who always repeated that the nearer the danger, the safer the place, so I hid the cadres next to the police stations. Not one of those cadres was arrested, and they were right under their noses. If I had a very dangerous unit, which was in the high command and involved special operations, I hid them around the police station. And they could not catch me because I discovered that the only way to survive those days was to operate aloneThese are people who are generals in the South African army today, who hold the highest offices in government but they must tell that story themselves.’ (18)

Others may answer:

Allergic to cowardice
Addicted to freedom’ (19)
She was militant to the core. On one occasion, when a policeman arrived at her house with a summons and dared to pull her arm, she assaulted him and had to defend herself in
court for the action’ (20)
She dared to take on a deadly machine
And she triumphed
Much of what my mother has been asked to account for is simply
when it comes to her male counterparts
And this kind of double standard acts also to
The immense contribution of women’ (21)

Her political power stemmed
from the
Visceral connection
she was able to make between
the everyday lives of black people in a racist State and
her own individual life’ (22)

Queen Mother Of The Nation (23)

Comrade-For-Life (24)

But who held you, MamWinnie?

I was the youngest sister
but not even once did she make me feel lesser
One time I suggested
she put Madikizela in her name
To show the world
she was Madikizela first’ (25)

Mama Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela
my two fingers and
Entire being
I pledge
I can and will hold.


Prevented from choosing
the way to raise your children
Allergic to cowardice
Addicted to freedom
You became a mother to so many, MamWinnie

She made the choice
that she would raise two families:
her personal family and the larger family that was her
Beloved country’ (26)

‘There were very few mothers that wore fatigues and carried coffins with their fists held up in the air. She really forced us to think differently about the family because there was no head, there was only the neck.’ (27)

Sometimes I think
Our greatest moments of strength
are also moments of weakness
And our moments of felt weakness
are moments of great strength

Because in the end
The Nation takes back its flag
Slipping, it
Frees you
And the bare casket that
Holds you
Lays you to rest.


Original drawing by Salimah Valiani.


(1) Excerpts here of speeches and other interventions made following the death of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela attempt to capture the spirit suggested—and felt—if not the exact words.

(2) A verse from the poem, On the Immaterial, in Cradles (Salimah Valiani 2017, Daraja Press), p. 20.

(3) This phrase from a male poets tribute at the official public funeral, 14 April, 2018:

(4) Male poets tribute,

(5) Male poets tribute,

(6) Male speaker at the official public funeral, April 14, 2018.

(7) Male speaker at the official public funeral, April 14, 2018.

(8) Zukiswa Madikizela at the official public funeral, April 14, 2018

(9) Riffing off a verse of the poem On the Immaterial in Cradles (Valiani 2017, Daraja Press), p. 20.

(10) Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Account no. 4: 21/7/70, 491 Days, (Picador Africa, 2013), p.70.

(11) Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Account no. 4: 22/7/70, 491 Days, (Picador Africa, 2013), p.72.

(12) Male speaker at the official public funeral, April 14, 2018.

(13) Myesha Jenkins, via Whats App.

(14) Guguletu Mhlungu, Winnie and the politics of memory, in the Mail and Guardian:

(15) Zenani Mandela-Dlamini at the official public funeral, 14 April, 2018

(16) Male speaker at the official public funeral, April 14, 2018

(17) Winnie Mandela in Part of my Soul, ed. Anne Benjamin (Norton: 1985), p. 48.

(18) Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Epilogue, 491 Days, (Picador Africa, 2013), p. 235.

(19) From a male poets tribute,

(20) Shireen Hassim, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: Revolutionary who kept the spirit of resistance alive, in the Mail and Guardian:

(21) Zenani Mandela-Dlamini at the official public funeral, 14 April, 2018

(22) Shireen Hassim, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: Revolutionary who kept the spirit of resistance alive, in the Mail and Guardian:

(23) Placard held by an unknown woman at the official public funeral.

(24) Placard held by an unknown man at the official public funeral.

(25) Zukiswa Madikizela at the official public funeral, 14 April, 2018

(26) Zenani Mandela-Dlamini at the official public funeral, 14 April 2018

(27) Gail Smith, Winnie turned motherhood on its head – Gail Smith,




About the Writer:

Salimah Valiani was born in Calgary, Canada of a mother from Uganda and father from Tanzania. Like her parents, Salimah left home in her late teenage years. She thus began a journey of study, activism and work which included extended stops in Montreal, London, New York City, Binghamton (USA), Toronto, Cape Town, Ottawa, and now Johannesburg. Through all this, she has published four volumes of poetry – breathing for breadth (TSAR: 2005), Letter Out : Letter In (Inanna: 2009), land of the sky (Inanna: 2016), and Cradles (Daraja: 2017), as well as one research monograph and one edited volume. In 2012 she was awarded the Feminist Economics Rhonda Williams Prize—an award recognising feminist scholarship and activism in the spirit of the African-American economist and advocate Rhonda Williams. She lives in Johannesburg with her South African wife and their daughter.