The film “Winnie Mandela” is an adaptation of a book entitled “Winnie Mandela: A Life” written by Anne Mare du Preez Bezdrob in 2003.  As the wife of Nelson Mandela, after his arrest she carried on his crusade for equality for blacks in South Africa.  In 1948, black people and those of other racial groups were forced to live separately from white people and did not have the same political and economic rights given to whites.


Jennifer HudsonCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                         Jennifer Hudson - Wikimedia


When Winnie Madikizela was born in South Africa in 1936, her father Columbus was disappointed that she was the sixth girl to be born to him and his wife.  He wanted a boy.  As a young girl, Winnie engaged in stick fights with the neighborhood boys, winning each time, to prove to her father that she was as good as a boy.  Many years later, Columbus apologized to Winnie, saying that he was so proud of her.   

Columbus was the headmaster of the local elementary school and Winnie was his best pupil.  He was the first black teacher in the area.  When officials visited to evaluate the headmaster’s abilities, Columbus had Winnie recite Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet, and the officials went away satisfied.

In 1953, Winnie (Jennifer Hudson) went to Johannesburg to study to become a social worker.  She was offered a scholarship in the United States but felt that she was needed more in Soweto, South Africa and turned down the scholarship.


Terrence HowardCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                        Terrence Howard                                                                                                                                                   Wikimedia                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Winnie Meets Nelson

Her fellow classmates encouraged her to come out with them one evening since she spent so much time at her studies.  They attended a rally where a young black lawyer who was also a boxer, Nelson Mandela (Terrence Howard), was demonstrating for just wages and civil rights for black people.  A photographer at the rally asked Winnie if he might take her picture.  After his speech, Mandela, who had noticed Winnie, asked her if she needed a lift.  She turned him down.

A Luncheon Date and Marriage

Later, Mandela saw her k4photograph in a magazine.  He then met her at a night spot called Dizzy’s with her classmates and asked her to go to lunch, which she accepted. They were married in 1958 and had two daughters.  On the eve of their wedding, De Vries (Elias Koteas) burst into their honeymoon cottage with his henchmen, took a bite out of her wedding cake that she had saved, and spit it out onto the floor.  He harassed both Winnie and Nelson throughout much of their lives.


Nelson MandelaCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                          Nelson Mandela - Wikimedia

Mandela’s Crusade

Mandela encouraged his fellow blacks to burn their pass books which restricted their ability to find work to support their families.  In 1963, he was arrested with three other black leaders and tried for sabotage and treason.  Although they could have received the death penalty, the men were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela answered his accusers by saying “I have done what I have done as a leader of the people, not because of what any outsider might have said.  It was an opportunity to serve my people.  South Africa belongs to all who live within, be they black or white.  I have fought against white domination and black domination, for a democratic and free society.  All persons will live together with equal opportunity.  It is an idea for which I am prepared to die.

Winnie Continues Her Husband’s Work

The African National Congress (ANC) was a moderate movement aimed at improving the status of non-whites in South Africa whose careers had been stymied by racial discrimination.  When her husband Nelson was sent to Robben Island Prison, she continued to work for the blacks in South Africa through the ANC.  For months, she tried to get permission to see him, without success.  Finally, the British Ambassador intervened, and she was allowed to visit her husband who told her “Tell our people never to give up.”


Winnie MandelaCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                           Winnie Mandela - Wikimedia

Winnie is Sent to Prison

Winnie refused to denounce her husband’s cause and was exiled to a small town hundreds of miles from Soweto before being allowed to return to the township, which was now on the brink of chaos.  She was eventually imprisoned herself for refusing to reveal the inner workings of the anti-apartheid movement.  She spent more than a year in solitary confinement.  Under pressure, her captors were obliged to set her free.  She was able to go home to her children.

The Football Team

Winnie continued her work and was asked by the football coach to join their football team which was actually an anti-apartheid group.  A 13-year-old boy named Stompie said that he was running from the police and asked to join the football team.  Later, Stompie was suspected of being a police informer and was killed by members of the football team.  Winnie was accused of ordering his death.  Her house was burned down and the coach promised to get her another house.  When she visited Mandela in prison, he said that he heard that she was sleeping with the football coach.  She told him “You have no right to ask me that question.”

Winnie is Found Responsible for Violations

In 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that she was “accountable, politically and morally, for the gross violations of human rights committed by the Mandela United Football Club.”  Winnie apologized to Stompie’s mother and was eventually elected president of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League.


Prison BarsCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                Prison Bars - Wikimedia

Nelson Mandela is Released from Prison

World Leaders condemned Winnie Mandela.  The ANC separated itself from her.  After 27 years, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and endorsed as the next president of South Africa.  He was told that Winnie could not be the first lady of the country.  Mandela argued “She spent nearly 500 days in prison, 400 of those in solitary.  She was exiled. They harassed her.  They nearly killed her.  Her contribution is beyond calculable.”  He had to tell Winnie “It would be best for us to separate.”

Winnie and Nelson were divorced.  He remarried but Winnie never did.  They were in close contact during those years, and she was at Nelson’s bedside daily during his last illness on earth.

This was a very sad story of love, hardship, the struggle for equality, and the inhumanity of man.  Although Nelson Mandela realized his dreams of bringing equality to his people, his wife who worked just as hard as he did, suffered recrimination for her actions, and was not recognized for the good work that she did.












Winnie Mandela: A Life [Paperback] [2005] Anne Mare du Preez Bezdrob
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