Charismatic Leaders




© Agnes Sam 2017


I consider Winnie Madikizela Mandela to be the greatest leader South Africa      and Africa ever produced. She ranks head and shoulders above Nelson Mandela. I will explain my reasons in this short page.

The charismatic leaders in South Africa that I have listed elsewhere, rose to prominence, each in his or her particular sphere when the liberation leaders was in prison, in exile, or had died. Winnie Mandela, however, reached across her specific sphere and influenced and affected many people.

Winnie Mandela was a beautiful young woman. Her beauty as she ages has not diminished. She was a qualified social worker. Nelson Mandela was a lawyer.  When she met Nelson Mandela he was sixteen years older than her, married and with a family. He lacked the handsome good looks and charisma of Steve Biko, Jay Naidoo and other men.  But she fell in love with Mandela.

Mandela’s first marriage was a traditional African marriage. Under the same regulations that applied to Hindu and Muslim marriages at the time, traditional African marriages were not recognised by the state. It was therefore, unnecessary for Mandela to obtain a divorce from his first wife.

The couple married and had two daughters.

The Rivonia trial saw Mandela tried for treason. The anticipated death sentence for treason was, however, commuted to life in prison.

There were many political prisoners on Robben Island. Some were imprisoned for longer periods of time than Mandela; others for the same length of time; many died on Robben Island; many were tortured and abused. But none of these prisoners were as well known as Nelson Mandela. I attribute this to the passion and commitment Winnie Mandela applied to her efforts to have her husband’s imprisonment known and the following that she attracted from around the world.

When Mandela’s anticipated execution was commuted to life in prison, Winnie Mandela was young with two young daughters. Nelson Mandela was expected to die in prison.

A young beautiful woman, however, was not expected to live the rest of her life without divorcing a man in prison for life and remarrying. Winnie Mandela did neither.  She did not divorce him. Instead she actively drew the attention of the world to her husband’s imprisonment.

The harassment and abuse that prisoners suffered was meted out to her. Her youth, her beauty, her vulnerability, her two young daughters, were not respected or considered in South Africa. She was an African woman. That was all that was considered.

Winnie Mandela made the journey from the Transvaal to the Cape, to Robben Island to visit Mandela; she wrote to him; she telephoned him.

At one stage she was referred to as the Mother of the Nation. One of the Kennedys visited her. The campaign to free Nelson Mandela became international. Streets were named after him. Songs were sung demanding his release from prison.

When the incredible happened and Nelson Mandela was actually released Winnie Mandela was at his side. Following Mandela’s release, however, Winnie was charged with several offences. I will not comment on the charges against her.

What is of interest to me is that Nelson Mandela forgave many people who were implicated in apartheid.  But Nelson Mandela never forgave Winnie Mandela. If Mandela had forgiven Winnie he would never have divorced her and remarried.

Winnie Mandela achieved notoriety for her phrase: ‘with our little boxes of matches we will liberate this country’. We know what she is referring to. Mandela’s words and his introduction of ‘the spear of the nation,’ into the African National Congress – a peaceful multiracial democratic political party, however, were acceptable to the world. Winnie’s words were not.

When I consider the strength Winnie Mandela revealed to bring the attention of the world to the imprisonment of her husband I believe the opponents of democracy in South Africa could not tolerate Nelson and Winnie Mandela together as leaders of the independent South Africa. Winnie Mandela should have been at Mandela’s side when he became president of South Africa. But she was not.

It is difficult to believe – in the political atmosphere of South Africa during apartheid – that there would not be people surrounding Winnie Mandela who were there to bring about her downfall, and were not part of the struggle for liberation.

Winnie Madikizela Mandela, the Mother of the Nation, is the most charismatic leader South Africa and Africa has ever produced. She ranks high above Nelson Mandela. What she and her daughters endured during Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment may be forgiven but should never be forgotten.

I have never had the opportunity to meet Winnie Mandela.


Agnes Sam

© Agnes Sam 2017