Tuesday 12 December 2017

Nelson and Winnie: a love divided by time and fate

She was the 'current' that kept him going through years in jail but the marriage really was a 'castle in the sand', writes Donal Lynch

CHANGES: Winnie playfully silences her husband in 1990
CHANGES: Winnie playfully silences her husband in 1990
Nelson Mandela with Winnie before his imprisonment
Winnie pictured at the funeral of her great-grandaughter in 2010
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Nelson Mandela was often at pains to point out that he was no saint. At times he seemed so miraculously lacking in bitterness that some thought he wore a mask that hid his true feelings. This was an entirely political calculation. Mandela believed that his effectiveness as a leader hinged on maintaining a perfect facade of magnanimity, presenting himself as a hero who was immune to ordinary human weakness. If he wept in private, in public he put on a face to meet the racists that you meet.

But even Mandela had his breaking point. In the years after his release this carefully cultivated image was disturbed only twice and ironically, both times it was his wife, rather than his political foes, who caused it.

The first came in 1991. Winnie had just been convicted of assault and accessory to kidnapping a 14-year-old black boy called Stompie Moeketsi, whom her driver had later murdered. Winnie had believed, wrongly, as it turned out, that the youth had been working as a spy for the apartheid state. After her conviction Mandela appeared on the steps of the courthouse with her and appeared aghast as she raised one fist in triumph. The photo shows him, his eyes downcast, his distress palpable.

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