This film deals with the complexities of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's life

2017-05-28 22:00

City Press film review: Winnie

Johannesburg - For most of her life, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has offered South Africa the ultimate gift: Herself.

It was always going to be a tall order for French director Pascale Lamche to pull off her sobering tale of one of South Africa’s greatest and most courageous womxn.

Winnie also deals with the complexities of Mam’ Winnie’s life that have at times led to the vilification of the freedom fighter who always held her fist up high when others were too scared to.

The life of Mam’ Winnie is filled with triumph but disgrace too. Her story is fascinating. Did Lamche do it justice? Yes and no.

Lamche only had access to Mam’ Winnie four times over a period of two years. This might have limited her from reflecting more broadly on Madikizela-Mandela’s life.

I was disappointed not to hear her thoughts on South Africa’s new struggles and leadership crisis.

Her tale is told in chronological order starting with her June 1958 marriage to South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, and picks up on her activism during his incarceration.

The story of her early life and the role her upbringing was touched on too hastily by Lamche. I was fascinated when Mam’ Winnie said that her dad’s tales of land being stolen “made Winnie.”

This is something that would have been worth exploring.

Almost every tale told of Mam’ Winnie casts her in the shadow of her former husband, who is beatified, while it is overlooked that it was near impossible for saintly freedom fighters to do anything controversial or that would overshadow their contribution to the liberation struggle because they were either in prison or in exile.

Mam’ Winnie was also incarcerated, but was mostly on the ground, fearless and determined.

Eventually, controversies like the kidnapping and death of Stompie Seipei became entwined in her legacy.

Naturally, she was a target of the apartheid state and secret service, who tried to silence her, isolate her and ruin her reputation – and some of Mam’ Winnie’s decisions made it easy for her enemies to tarnish her image, turn the saint into a sinner.

South African audiences will grasp the stories that are patched together by Lamche, while international audiences won’t be able to keep up and will still be left confused about how they feel about Mam’ Winnie by the film’s end.

The archive images and footage combined with new footage of the country could have been juxtaposed more profoundly.

The documentary is fascinating but it won’t give you any new insight into who Mam’ Winnie truly wants us to remember her as.


Days before watching the documentary, I met the Mother of the Nation at a social event. She was kind to everyone who approached her and patiently took photos with almost every guest. She has always been a saint to me, a casualty of apartheid, so the only thing I wanted to say to her was: “Thank you.”

She embraced me and had tears in her eyes as we talked about the scourge of femicide in the country. She squeezed my hands and said: “I’m so so sorry … I’m so sorry. And I’m glad I met you and that we spoke about this.” Minutes later she promised the room that she will help fix the country. After watching the documentary, I wished for just a tiny bit of her courage.

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