From the book: Side by Side by Helen Joseph
The main street in a small country town in the Orange Free State, some 360 miles from Johannesburg; a few shops, a bank, a couple of filling stations and a hotel line the street. There are two Dutch Reformed churches and a police station. It is a place for whites. Blacks must enter through separate shop entrances to make their purchases lest they offend white customers by their visible presence. It is a place where the blacks who serve the white community must be herded to live in a small location, over the hill where they will not be seen by passing traffic. It is just like many another small town anywhere in South Africa.
On the morning of 17 May 1977, a mother and her daughter walked along that Brandfort street, looking as though they had stepped out of a smart hotel, elegant in high boots, polo-necked sweaters, slacks tucked into the tops of their boots. Brandfort stared in amazement. I think no one like this, black or white, had ever walked down that street before. Winnie Mandela and her daughter Zindzi walked very tall, their heads high, greeting with joy and grace the friends who had found them in their banishment.
I have known Winnie Mandela for more than twenty years. A deep and lasting bond of affection has grown between us, yet when I look back over those years I realise how little direct personal contact there has been between us, always sporadic except once for a few months in 1975. The circumstances of our lives, governed by our involvement in the liberation struggle, have held us physically apart.
I find that when I come to write about Winnie, the pattern is that of a series of vivid personal memories, held together by that affection which is rooted not only in her but also in her husband and her children.
I am nearing eighty and I do not know how much longer I have left. Winnie is still banned and banished, for another four years. I doubt now that we shall ever know the joy of a fully shared friendship, such as others know. For us there are no frequent meetings, hours of talk, shared pleasures, not even the free exchange of letters.
When I recall the riches of our relationship with each other, the unforgettable moments of togetherness, then I realise how privileged I have been to have the affection of this woman who has transcended the hardships and persecutions heaped upon her almost beyond human endurance. She has emerged from it all as indestructible.
It will be difficult for me to convey a real picture of her, because of the rarity of our contact. I hope that what I have to tell of her from my personal knowledge and experience of her will describe something of those unique qualities of dignity, courage and commitment which have made her what she is today, the embodiment of both her husband's strength and her own. She stands as the living witness outside the prison walls of their joint survival.
My first clear memory of Winnie seems to be when she came to see Nelson on visiting days at the treason court in the Old Synagogue in Pretoria. That was during the 1960 Emergency when we were in gaol detention, but coming every day to our trial. Family visits were allowed there, but no provision was made for the usual prison conditions for receiving visitors beyond that small enclosed yard where we were herded for our meals and all court recesses. The visitors walked in past us, one by one, each to find her special prisoner.
Prison decorum and discipline were met by insisting that the couples walked together to an open shed to talk to each other through a window cut in a partition. We could see them as they walked past us and as they stood, one on each side of that ridiculous partition, there presumably to prevent them from embracing each other.
Two beautiful women stood out amongst our visitors, Winnie Mandela and Amina Cachalia, both so lovely, each so different from the other. Winnie was tall and elegantly dressed, she could hold her own in any fashionable gathering. Her classic sculptured features still had the smooth contours of youth. She was not yet twenty-five years old. Amina was small and exquisite in her Indian sari, glowing in her own radiance as she walked beside her tall husband, Yusuf Cachalia. The sight of these lovely women gladdened all our hearts and lightened our days during those dreary weeks of detention.
I wish I could remember how and when I first met Nelson Mandela or how I first met his wife, Winnie Nonzamo Madikizela. I can't. It is a long time ago now and there was nothing then to make me aware of what these two people were going to mean in my life. The treason trial brought me near to Nelson, the "gentle giant", as one of his contemporaries has called him. Yet that is not the whole story. Yes, he is gentle, slow speaking, deliberate, his words are carefully chosen. He towered over the rest of us; his physique was commanding, that of a fighter. Over and above all this was the indelible impression of enormous strength of mind as well as body.
When I first met Nelson, he wasn't married. His first marriage had ended in divorce and he was a most eligible bachelor, a well-known attorney in his late thirties, in partnership with Oliver Tambo. He was handsome, popular and an established ANC leader, the Transvaal President until he was banned in 1953. Amongst ourselves we used to speculate about Nelson remarrying but he didn't seem in any hurry. For a time he was seen about with Lilian Ngoyi, older than Nelson but looking far younger than her real age. Lilian, the attractive charismatic leader of the ANC Women's League and the Federation of South African Women ”” and Nelson! What a partnership that would be! The gossips were wrong. Nelson made his own choice. We soon heard about the lovely young social worker, Winnie Madikizela.
I must have met her first at a party, for I wasn't allowed to attend other meetings at that time because of my bail conditions. The actual meeting, of course, is not important. What is important is awareness of the young Mrs Mandela rapidly moving into political circles.
From its beginning the Mandela's married life was strange, bedevilled. Nelson was attending the treason trial, day after day, and, like me, earning a living by working long hours in addition to the monolithic demands of the trial. He used to join me in my car for the Pretoria run at eight o'clock in the morning. By then he had already put in a couple of hours at his law office and by five o'clock in the evening he would be back there again seeing clients, working late into the night before returning home to his bride.
During those first years there can have been little marriage companionship except during trial adjournments, yet that was all that Nelson and Winnie were to have. For the past quarter of a century they have been separated, first by Nelson going underground from the end of the trial and then by his arrest in July 1962 with the endless years of imprisonment to follow.
Dependent upon snatched meetings, an hour in secret here, a couple of hours there, never daring to meet in their own home, to sit at table with their two little daughters, what sort of life was that on which to build a marriage that must endure through twenty years and more of Robben Island widowhood? For widowhood it is, this pattern of thirty-minute visits at the gaol, through a perspex window, speaking through a telephone and always in the presence of a warder.
Winnie has not touched Nelson's hand for the past twenty years. Yet Zindzi, their youngest daughter, declares that they are still so much in love with each other that she feels she ought not to intrude on the togetherness that blossoms, even in the gaol visiting room.
Winnie was amongst the 2,000 women who crowded the gaol in 1958 when the pass-issuing units first came to Johannesburg. It was to be for her the first of a long series of arrests and gaol. She had married a banned political leader whose life already belonged to the liberation struggle, to the half-life of the banned, to the shadow of gaol. It was the beginning for her of a life of persecution and harassment that was to persist for the next twenty-five years ”” and longer.
She was pregnant then with her first child. Eighteen years later, she wrote of it in a letter to me when she was detained in the same gaol: "thousands of us and me carrying Zeni, who was making all kinds of mute threats, protesting against sleeping on the cement floor at her embryonic age."
In 1960 Nelson came to my Christmas Day party in the last year of the treason trial. Winnie was in hospital for the birth of Zindzi. He brought the small Zeni, not yet two years old, very proud other pale blue party dress and the wreath of forget-me-nots atop her little round head. She sat shyly and solemnly, a little princess, on Nelson's knee, looking around with wide wondering eyes at all these unknown people.
I remember Winnie at the conference of the Federation of South African Women in 1962 when she was elected to the executive committee. She had made a rousing speech (the only speech of hers that I ever heard). She called especially on the young to gird themselves for the struggle for freedom. Nelson was already underground ”” or perhaps even briefly out of the country. It was clear even then that Winnie was more than Mrs Nelson Mandela; she was already accepted as a leader in her own right. I remember that the older members of the Federation, including me, I must confess, were a little hesitant over the militancy of her speech, though at the same time inspired by it.
Nelson's first trial followed in Pretoria soon after that. He was charged with inciting workers to commit an offence by staying at home from work, and also with leaving the country illegally. By that time I could not attend the trial because of my bans and house arrest. It meant, too, that I could not see Winnie there, but I did not realise that this was only the beginning for us of a long separation, nor that we should draw so close to each other despite that separation.
I read the press reports of Nelson's trial, of his militant handling of his own defence in a court, which to him was no court of justice but a court of discrimination. He was a black man "in a white man's court" facing a white magistrate, confronted by a white prosecutor, escorted by white orderlies ... in an "atmosphere of white domination".
At the end of that trial, Nelson made his first historic court statement. The second was to come in the Rivonia trial. This first one, however, is for me the most moving. There are passages in it, which I find deathless ”” and heart breaking from a man who did not, could not know that two years later he would be condemned to spend the rest of his life in gaol. "If I had my time over again," he said, "I would do the same again, so would any man who dare call himself a man." And at the end of his trial,
Not just I alone but all of us are willing to pay the penalties which we may have to pay, which I may have to pay for having followed my conscience in pursuit of what I believe to be right. So are we all. Many people in this country have paid the price before me and many will pay the price after me.
Nelson was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. He had worn tribal dress throughout his trial and so had Winnie. I wish I could have seen them, both proud and tall, proclaiming silently their unbreakable identity with their people. Beneath the outward dignity and splendour, their hearts must have been torn at the impending separation from each other in that marriage that had brought parting and sorrow alongside their joy.
During the year after that trial Winnie received her first banning orders. She was no longer free even to visit her husband in gaol. She first had to obtain permission to leave Johannesburg. At each stage of her journey she would have to report to the local police. For me it meant that there would be no further contact between Winnie and me for several years. We were now forbidden to communicate with each other.
Sometimes I used to see the little girls, but never Winnie, though I knew from others how she was struggling to bring them up, to keep them free from the taint of Bantu education. For a time, a coloured school accepted them and this must have been a relief to Winnie, for coloured children were not given a separate and inferior education. It was not to last. The nuns were visited by the security police and warned that it was illegal for African children to be admitted to coloured schools. The children had to leave.
Zeni and Zindzi were then sent to a convent boarding school in Swaziland, away from the racial discrimination, which doesn't spare even little children. It meant that they had to be away from their mother. They had not seen their father since his arrest, for children may not visit prisoners in the gaols. Winnie remained alone in the little house in Soweto and the children endured unhappy homesick years at school while their mother struggled, as all banned people do, to find the employment, which would enable her to maintain her children. The years went by until an opportunity came for Winnie and me to correspond with each other. We wrote many letters, all illegal, about the children, about ourselves, about our friends. These letters became our lifeline for perhaps a year or more, until I went to work at the hotel in Roodepoort and I was too far away from Winnie for our secret "hand post" to continue.
Winnie was banned and re-banned. I was re-house arrested and our separation remained total. In 1969 Winnie and twenty-two others were detained in gaol for six months before they were brought to trial under the Terrorism Act.
These detainees suffered greatly during months of detention, especially during interrogation. Winnie described it years later in a speech during a brief period of freedom.
. . . it means the beginning of that horror story told many a time . . . it means being held in a single cell with the light burning twenty-four hours so that I lost track of time and was unable to tell whether it was night or day ... The frightful emptiness of those hours of solitude is unbearable. Your company is your solitude, your blanket, your mat, your sanitary bucket, your mug and yourself . . . All this is in preparation for the inevitable HELL ”” interrogation. It is meant to crush your individuality entirely, to change you into a docile being from whom no resistance can arise . . . There have been alleged suicides in detention; you keep asking yourself whether you will leave the cell alive for you do not know what drove those who died to their deaths . . . Here you have to enter into a debate with yourself. There are only two divisions; you decide whether you will emerge a collaborator with the system or continue your identification with whatever your cause is.
When Winnie and twenty-two others came to trial, the truth of her words were evident. There were some who had been their friends, their colleagues, who went into the witness box to testify against them. Only two had been able to hold out against the horrors of interrogation, had held on to their loyalty.
Acquittal for Winnie and her friends came in 1970. Within minutes, they were redetained before ever they could leave the court, to spend another six months in solitary confinement. The state eventually brought them ludicrously to trial again on charges so nearly identical with those on which they had been acquitted that the state case was thrown out immediately and they were at last free.
Winnie could once again visit Nelson ”” her 471 days in gaol must have been well nigh unendurable for them both, nearly fourteen months without seeing each other in gaols almost 1,000 miles apart. Their children were still at school in Swaziland and during the school holidays they came home without sight or sound of their parents.
The acquittal brought an unpredicted consequence for Winnie. Her banning orders expired while she was in detention and it seemed that this had passed unnoticed by the authorities, for they were not renewed. On her first day out of gaol she came to me, to my gate, for she could not come in, not even onto my garden path for that moment of reunion after eight years of separation. I was still under house arrest and could not receive visitors.
I didn't have time even to open the gate before we were hugging each other. A picture was published in the newspaper the next day. It is mostly the back view of Winnie as we embraced over the gate, but it shows my face, too, with a very happy smile. Eleven years later I learned from an ex-Robben Island prisoner that this press cutting had somehow made its way onto the Island and into Nelson's hands. It went the round of the section, where all photographs must be shared. I was touched to know this. I still am.
Despite house arrest, I could leave my house during daytime, so Winnie and I went for a long drive in my car, just the two of us, to try to say in a few hours everything that had mattered in the past eight years. It wasn't possible, but I think that most of what was important was said. Winnie would not speak of what she had endured. She felt that pain should not intrude on our hours together.
After that the curtain of silence fell between us again for the next five years. Winnie was banned again and this time also put under house arrest. Zeni and Zindzi came to see me sometimes and I watched them grow year by year, Zindzi with much of her mother's sparkle, Zeni growing tall and like her father. During those five years, I was able only once to be near Winnie and even then I could not speak to her. She had been sentenced to six months' gaol for violation of her bans by communicating with another banned person, Peter Magubane, "Uncle Peter" to the children. Today Peter is a photographer of international fame. In 1975 he too went to gaol for six months as a banned person for communication with Winnie. He was still establishing himself as a photographer after 580 days of solitary confinement during his detention without trial in 1969 and 1970.
A group of friends were present at the magistrate's court when Winnie surrendered herself to serve the six months in gaol. We followed her from her attorney's office, a little group of perhaps a dozen friends and students. We kept a little behind Winnie as she walked with the attorney so that she should not be part of our gathering. Tall and striking in a black high-necked blouse and long skirt to her ankles, headscarf in flaring black, yellow and green, the ANC colours, she was breathtakingly beautiful.
We stood together sadly as Winnie went alone up the steps to the forbidding door leading to the cells. She turned to face us and ran quickly down the steps to embrace each one of us, except me. Our fingers met and held for a brief moment, that was all there could be for Winnie and me. Then she was gone, giving us the
Congress salute as she entered the door, a black policeman behind her. Winnie
Mandela was a prisoner again.
When my own bans and house arrest were suspended after the cancer operation, I still had not been able to see or greet Winnie, because she was banned. There had been so much rejoicing for me, but the face I wanted most to see was missing. It was a bizarre situation, comic if it had not been so heart-rending. There was nothing now to stop me from communicating with Winnie, except that she could neither write nor speak to me.
"Where else would I spend my first night of freedom?" It was Winnie's voice at last. Her five years' ban had passed. On 1 November 1975 I telephoned to her early in the morning, still afraid that her bans might have been renewed. To my joy I heard that she could speak to me at last, could even come to supper with me. I waited at the door that night, listening for her car to stop so that I could walk down the path to meet her. She came running, arms wide open. The five years were gone.
On Christmas Day that year she brought her children to the party, radiant in her return to a full life, to people. That was a great party with friends who had been freed from their bans after years of restrictions, sometimes after gaol as well. Other friends were still under house arrest and bans but they sent their children instead.
From the moment her bans expired, Winnie plunged into political life. I think one of her greatest moments must have been the enormous welcome she received from the women of Durban within the first weeks of her freedom. That was when she made her moving speech on detention. The prospect of re-banning did not deter her, even after so many years of restrictions. Her attitude was always, "being banned and unbanned is really one and the same thing... I really do not regard myself as any freer than I was yesterday." She knew her "liberty" could be taken away from her at any moment, nor could she really be free while others were still unfree.
"I'm still a part of Nelson," she said. She would not accept that she had any real freedom. "Nothing changes in my mind," she said, "because the orders have been lifted. The situation in the country remains the same, my views remain the same and there is really no freedom as such." I knew she was right. I had been speaking too lightly myself about my "freedom". The lifting of a ban is not real freedom because it affects only the person concerned. Perhaps it is because there is no real freedom here that we have cheapened the word.
"In there I have seen the future we are fighting for," Winnie said, on Ascension Day 1976 when she joined me in St Mary's Cathedral for the first time ”” for there the Mass is totally integrated. I knew that she would be moved deeply by this, as well as by the fact that we could kneel side by side, be together in this mixed congregation, with the mixed choir, with the priests of different colours administering Holy Communion. As we walked out together I saw tears in her eyes. For a few Sundays after that we shared the Mass at the Cathedral with its lovely ritual of lights, incense and music and we took Holy Communion side by side.
I had had no idea that her thoughts were turning this way, towards a return to church worship, although I knew that she had never abandoned her faith, even in the hardest times. It had been something that she had carried in her heart, not dependent upon church services, but now she felt the need to take it further.
A month later came the agony of Soweto. As the news came over the radio hour by hour, I tried to reach Winnie on the telephone. I got through only once, to hear her say, "Orlando is on fire. Keep telephoning." Soon there were no longer any telephones in Orlando. We could not meet again in town for a few weeks because she was rushing back from work every day to Orlando to be with her people and also all through the weekend.
Events moved swiftly. On 18 July Zeni and Zindzi came back from school for the holidays. They came back to an empty house for that was the morning that Winnie and many others had been detained in gaol. Uncle Peter Magubane moved into that desolate home to care for Winnie's children together with his own teenage daughter.
Once again Zeni and Zindzi had neither father nor mother. It is almost impossible for others to understand what that must have been for these two teenage girls, sixteen and seventeen years old. Even the small security of being in their own home was to be for only a few weeks before Soweto exploded again and very near to them.
I came home one day to find a note on my front door, "Uncle Peter says we must come to live with you. We'll be back soon. Zindzi." On the verandah was a small mountain of boxes. They came very soon, Zindzi, Zeni and a friend who had been living in their house with them. Peter came to tell me that it was no longer safe for them to be in Orlando. I learned much later word had come from Nelson that they must come to me.
We expected Peter the next night for supper, but he didn't appear. His driver came instead with his cameras and a whole pile of his precious photographs. Peter had been detained.
I was more than a little embattled by the prospect of three tall lively teenagers in my little house and in my solitary life. Somehow we all fitted in together and settled down to a shared life, surmounting even the cistern disaster, when gallons of water descended onto my kitchen floor. We endured almost a week of endlessly boiling kettles and pans of water on a two-plate gas stove for baths.
Cooking for us all on that little stove wasn't easy, but friends rallied to our help with cooked chickens and tasty pies. Like all families we quarreled sometimes and I felt guilty and inadequate until Zeni consoled me by saying, "Oh, that's just how families live!" She herself was living in her own dream world, waiting for the daily telephone calls from the young Prince Thumbumusi Dlamini of Swaziland, son of King Sobhuza II.
Weekly highlights were the children's visits to Winnie in the grim Johannesburg Fort prison where she was detained, bringing oranges and sweets for her comfort. I asked for permission to visit her but it was refused. Once we managed to exchange a few words through a barred and wire-meshed window at the side of the forbidding gaol doors. We were abruptly interrupted by a stormy matron who literally chased me off the stone steps onto the pavement, threatening to call the police to throw me out if I did not go. I went. She called me by my name and I knew that made it worse because in fact she had been a gaol officer on both occasions when I had been an inmate of that gaol. She obviously thought I ought to know better than to try to communicate with a prisoner.
Zindzi and Zeni had both been allowed to visit their father during the school holidays, the father they were not allowed to touch, to kiss, but only to look at through a perspex window. These meetings must have been strange and exciting yet desperately sad for these two young girls, seeing their father a prisoner in prison garb, behind bars.
Zindzi said that he still looked young and strong. She had even "seen him walk once" and he had walked "like a young man". He must inevitably have seemed something of a stranger that first meeting, trying to capture some of the lost moments of their childhood, the family life that neither he nor they had ever known. Zindzi had seen her father "walk once" ”” for me that sums up the searing tragedy, which miraculously has not destroyed this family.
It was not illegal for the girls to stay with me in my white suburb. In any case I realised that I could not hide three black teenagers from public view nor from being heard either. My police neighbours stared in disgust, receiving visibly hostile looks from us when we saw them alighting from police cars, father and son, carrying their guns. We knew they had come from Soweto and to see them with their guns brought this horror nearer.
The girls went back to Waterford, their new school in Swaziland. I was relieved of the responsibility for the time being, yet I missed the noise and chatter, even the crowding and the non-stop radio.
I wasn't allowed to visit Winnie so I wrote her a letter, not very optimistic about whether she would be allowed to receive it, but she did. Another precious exchange of letters began, and this, time I could preserve them. I hadn't been able to do so in 1967 because we were corresponding illegally since we were both banned. I knew that if I were raided by the security police and her letters found; it could bring dire consequences upon both of us, probably a gaol sentence.
Gaol letters, both in and out, are always difficult to write because they are censored, because they may not contain any political reference whatsoever and because they are supposed to be restricted to family matters ”” and I wasn't officially a family. Within a few days a loving reply came and several other letters followed. She wrote of our going to Mass together ”” "the first few days it was hard to take it. Anyway I know we shall have many more . . . indeed we shall walk side by side to receive Holy Communion ... I look forward to being with you once more."
She reminded me that gaol letters are "as you know from experience, a fantastic sedative, that little link with the outside world..." She worried over how much I could take of the "teenage explosion" and over my health. "Please take things easy. You have to be eternal and you know why." She dreamt of "our garden and its tranquilising beauty in which I found such peace of mind". Once she wrote, "I feel bad about the fact that it took me so long to know your true self ”” anyway someone decides our fate and He knows why."
Winnie was echoing my own regrets about the wasted years when we didn't get to know each other when we had the opportunity. Recalling that one Christmas Day party at my house, she wrote, "I cannot help thinking of that last year's party in that lovely garden where I met so many old forgotten friends. Little did we know it was to be a relic of the past. I doubt if we shall ever have such a lovely time in the near future."
Many of the detainees were released just before Christmas, some with banning orders as a sort of Christmas present. Winnie and a few others were only released on the morning of 30 December 1976. As she left the gaol she received a new banning order, another five years of house arrest, of no visitors, of daily reporting to the police. Other detainees also received banning orders on release, but only Winnie was subjected to house arrest.
It meant that we were separated again and could no longer communicate with each other. In every letter from the gaol she had looked forward to our reunion. There would have been so much to say that would not go into letters and now it could be only me writing to Winnie, never Winnie to me.
These new banning orders must have been very hard for Winnie to bear. She already knew from experience over ten years the life of a banned and house arrested person. Now there was an added bitterness because in her eight and a half months of liberty, she had been able to move out into the political field. In addition to the new Black Women's Federation, she had been on the executive of the Black Parents' Association in Soweto, the organisation that she had helped to bring about during the June unrest. Her time to serve on it had been short. She and several of its officials had been amongst those detained in July.
My contact with Winnie was gone except for kneeling side by side in silence sometimes at an early morning weekday Mass. A friend would tell me when Winnie was coming to the Cathedral so that we could be there at the same time. It was tempting to exchange a greeting but there might be strangers in the church, no one knew from where. These glimpses of each other were deeply important as the first few months passed.
Nothing had prepared Winnie for the shock of 16 May 1977 when she was banished to Brandfort in the Free State. Only she and Zindzi know the real agony of it. When they finally sat alone that night in that cold dark little Brandfort house with their unpacked suitcases, what were their thoughts? Did Winnie pray then as she had prayed during those endless days of interrogation, of solitary confinement? Did she pray for physical pain as a relief from the torture of the reality of five years to be lived out in the loneliness of banishment? I do not know, for from that day to this we have not been allowed to communicate with each other.
As I drove to Brandfort the next day with Father Leo Rakale and Barbara Waite, we passed through Winburg, where African women had won their place in history for their resistance to the issuing of passes to African women in 1913 and again in 1956 when they defiantly burnt their passes at the municipal offices. I remembered them as we drove through the little town. On a stony slope outside the town I saw a huddle of dilapidated buildings, obviously part of an African location of some sort. My mind recoiled from what I saw. Was it to anything like this that Winnie had been taken? For the next thirty miles I dreaded to reach Brandfort for fear of what we might find.
I watched them come across the road to us, Winnie and Zindzi. Our meeting was warm and exciting despite the horror that had brought it about. Zindzi told me what had happened, simply, almost stoically, with no tears. She was quiet, still a little stunned, the usual bubbling vivacity of this child of sixteen was gone.
Four carloads of police had arrived before six in the morning to take her mother off to the police station, together with Uncle Peter and a cousin. They had been staying in the house quite legally as Zindzi's guests, not Winnie's, but they were all bundled off. Zindzi was left alone with the police, not even allowed to telephone anyone, while her home, the house where she had grown up, was dismantled, stripped of everything. Furniture, personal possessions, clothes, everything was loaded into a furniture van. Only when this ruthless four-hour operation had been completed and the little house stood empty, was Zindzi taken to join her mother. Only then was Winnie presented with the document, which was designed to change her life, destroy everything she had built up for her family.
I don't know how Winnie and Zindzi spent that first night in that place, hundreds of miles from their home, with no light except the candles supplied by the police, no heat, no water laid on. I can only imagine dimly what it would be like if my furniture and the things I live with were suddenly jampacked into three rooms the size of police cells, dark and cold, empty of all the amenities which I accept as essential.
They found themselves totally isolated. The African people in the township had been intimidated, warned by the police to keep away from Winnie. They were already under surveillance from both black and white security police. There would be many informers among the township residents. They had been made social lepers by their banishment.
Their only link with the outside world was the public telephone booth outside the Brandfort post office. From there they would try to get through to Johannesburg. They would spend many hours waiting hopefully for calls from their friends. This was to be the highlight of their lives for the next five years and longer.
As we were leaving, Winnie came to the side of our car to speak to Leo. She put her hand inside. From the back seat, I held it for a moment. That was all. Then I kissed Zindzi and we drove away on our journey back to Johannesburg and our comfortable homes. We had found them. We had seen and talked to them. We should come again. I knew there would be others coming after us but could even this help much in this desolate banishment?
A week later, Leo and I and two other friends returned to Brandfort. This time we parked under the tree outside the post office. There is nowhere private in Brandfort for us. As before, Zindzi and I remained together and the others went one by one to spend time with Winnie in her car. Security policemen watched us from their cars, this time taking our names and addresses.
Leo was undaunted by the name taking. He held a brief Holy Communion service for Winnie as she sat alone in her car, while the rest of the security police and us watched and waited. I longed to join them but I knew that once it was realised that I was a listed person, there would be attempts to charge Winnie with communication with me and I did not want to involve her in that.
On another visit, of course, this actually happened. Barbara and I eventually served gaol sentences for refusal to make statements to the police. Two other friends met with the same fate. It became almost impossible for me to get to Brandfort again. I wanted to go, to talk to Zindzi again, to support Winnie if only by my silent presence. I could not drive myself to Brandfort. It was understandable that, after the police harassment and our convictions, others were apprehensive lest the same thing happen to them.
I managed to get to Brandfort only once more, with an overseas press representative. Winnie was always so welcoming, like a gracious hostess, when she came to us under the post office tree. We shared the transferring of gifts from one car to another. Winnie and I could then exchange secret smiles, secret because Sergeant Prinsloo of the security branch was always watching us from his car only a few yards away. He always knew when we were there. Obviously the local informer service was very well organised.
My hopes of helping Winnie to endure the loneliness of her banishment were fast fading. I had not been able to talk to her on these expeditions to Brandfort but she had known that I had come to her, perhaps six or seven times in all. Now it could not go on.
As the months went slowly by, part of Winnie's life was taken up with prosecutions for alleged violations of her banning orders. Ironically, she had to be given permission to leave Brandfort to travel to Bloemfontein to the magistrate's court there. On two occasions I was able to be present at her trials. I could then see Winnie in court and be very close to her during recesses, both of us always of course under the watchful eye of Sergeant Prinsloo. In fact every one of these prosecutions was Prinsloo-contrived.
On the first occasion Winnie was facing five charges. I found a great gathering of pressmen there, both South African and international. She was tall, proud and elegant in black from head to foot with a headscarf of ANC colours. The prosecutor tried to interpret this as an act of defiance. Winnie reminded the court, "One of the very few rights I have left is the choice of my wardrobe."
During every interval of the trial, the court was locked. We crowded into the corridor, Winnie and I always careful to keep Zindzi between us, while Sergeant Prinsloo, crouched a little distance away, was doing his best to keep an eye on both of us at the same time. It was not an easy task and it made him look somewhat like a malevolent frog.
Under cross-examination in court, his reply to questions on his harassment of Winnie and Zindzi was always, "I was doing my duty." His duty led him into strange positions. I remembered his face, framed in the dripping privet hedge on our fateful visit to Brandfort. Here he was again, screwing up his eyes lest he should miss a gesture or a word between us. He was enraged when a press photographer took his picture while he was in that undignified crouching position.
Winnie was acquitted on three charges, but sentenced to six months in gaol on two, the sentence suspended for four years. This trial and everything about it exposed the petty vindictiveness of the state's treatment of Nonzamo Winnie, wife of Nelson Mandela. It was not enough that she had been forced out of her home to live amongst strangers 360 miles away. Forced even here to live under cruelly restrictive house arrest and banning orders, she was exposed to the prying by the security police, which had brought her to trial.
To trial for what? Talking to a neighbour about the price of chickens or coal? Refusing to debar her daughter from having visitors to their home? Speaking to her own sister in her own home? Such actions are the stuff of our ordinary life. For banned and house-arrested people they are crimes. This criminality and the consequent appearances in court were fast becoming the stuff of Winnie's ordinary life.
Eventually Nelson applied to the Supreme Court for an interdict on Sergeant Prinsloo's harassment of Zindzi, who was not subject to any ban or house arrest order. The application was granted and the persecution of Zindzi ceased, but that of her mother has continued ever since.
Winnie's eldest daughter Zeni had married her prince and was living in Swaziland. Her first child was to be christened in the Bloemfontein Cathedral so that Winnie would be able to be there. Nelson had said that he wanted both Dr Moroka, onetime President of the ANC, and me to be godparents to the baby. It was a great honour and I went to Bloemfontein for the baptism. Dr Moroka was there, upright at ninety years old.
I waited in the Cathedral that morning for the family party to arrive. Winnie came first. Carrying the baby, she moved past me to the end of the pew. Our hands touched for a moment. Zindzi followed to sit between us and then came Zeni and Prince Musi. Winnie and I walked together to the altar rail for Holy Communion. We knelt side by side, in silence but in deep and true communion with each other.
After the Mass, Winnie led us out into the centre aisle. Then I saw in Bloemfontein, in the heart of Afrikanerdom, the whites come out from their pews, greeting Winnie as she walked down the aisle, welcoming her, glad that her grandchild was to be baptised in their cathedral. I saw Sergeant Prinsloo at the back of the Cathedral, leaning against the wall, arms folded, watching and waiting. I found this utterly sacrilegious, despicable. As we gathered round the font, Prinsloo drew a little closer, fearful that he might miss something ”” what? A whisper between Winnie and me? He followed us out onto the Cathedral steps where Winnie and I stood apart from each other. I went to stand on the pavement as she drove off with her family. I called out, "Goodbye, Winnie!" and I heard a soft "Goodbye" as her car pulled away.
As I flew back to Johannesburg I thought of Nelson in the Sunday afternoon lock-up in his cell on Robben Island. He would soon be sixty. How much longer must they all endure his captivity and the separation? Yet neither he, nor the men with him, were separated from the struggle for freedom. They were a part of it.
I wrote to Nelson for his sixtieth birthday. I had sent telegrams in previous years but had never known whether he had received them. I told him about Zaziwe's christening, what a wonderful occasion it had been for me. To my amazement and delight I received a reply. It wasn't the first letter, of course, that I had ever received from him. That had been sixteen years before when he wrote to me from his police cell about my house arrest.
He said in this letter that right from the time when he had had to leave Winnie all alone, the fact that I was still there had comforted him. He wrote with delight that he now had a picture of me in his "family album". It was one of those taken of all of us at Zaziwe's christening.
On Nelson's sixtieth birthday I received a telephone call from someone asking to speak to "Aunt Helen". The nameless voice said, "Nelson Mandela is dead. Ha! Ha! Ha!" I knew it could not be true, not if I heard it like that, but I had almost believed it for a moment.
Black as I am. This is the title of Zindzi's book of poems, all written before she was sixteen years old. They are as startling as the title, the outpouring of a young, proud, sensitive girl for whom there could never be any compensation for the frustration and agony other childhood, yet the warmth and capacity for love and joy are there. Peter Magubane provided the photographs of Soweto life, which set the perceptive framework. The poems reached Nelson. How proud he must be of the daughter he did not see for so many painful years, the daughter who could write:
A tree was chopped down
and the fruit was scattered
because I had lost a family
the trunk, my father the branches, his support
so much the fruit, the wife and children
who meant so much to him tasty
loving as they should be
all upon the ground
some out of his reach
in the ground
the roots, happiness
cut off from him.
The years moved slowly towards 31 December 1981, when Winnie's bans and banishment orders would expire. Meanwhile the international stature of the Mandelas was growing steadily. 1980 brought Nelson the Jawaharlal Nehru award from India for his staunch support of freedom and individual liberty, justice and peace. He could not go to India to receive his award, nor was Winnie allowed to go in his stead. Nor was Zindzi given a passport to go. It was Oliver Tambo, President General of the ANC, who finally went to India.
Other honours followed in quick succession from Glasgow, from Austria, from London. Nelson became Dr Mandela with an honorary doctorate from Lesotho. Because I want to be sure that my letters reach him, I don't address them to Dr Mandela but to 466/64 Nelson Mandela when I write to him in gaol.
White Brandfort became restive, appealing to the Minister of Justice to take Winnie away because her presence was "causing such unhappiness in the community". Was it because she used the white entrance to the shops and other black people were following her example? Yet the same whites took themselves so seriously that they talked of "improving the quality of life" in the location. They were not, however, prepared to face the implications of integration if they were to remove the evils of segregation.
The attitude of black Brandfort was naturally very different. Winnie had become the mother of the township in a very short time. The people had soon realised that far from being a threat to their well being, as the police had indicated, this woman not only loved them but really worked to improve their "quality of life". She did so both by her example and her generosity. She helped the people, despite their poverty, to grow vegetables, even in those barren patches of ground on which their houses stood. Despite her own difficulties, Winnie brought them together as a community, learning to understand the struggle for liberation.
Shortly before 31 December, I wrote hopefully to Winnie about perhaps being with her on New Year's Eve. Like all of us who draw near to the end of a banning order, she didn't know what to expect. That is all part of the petty sadism of the banning system, to keep the victim in a state of anxiety for the last few weeks. She wondered whether the police would come to load her furniture and possessions as they had loaded them five years before when they brought her to this place. Would they take her along with her goods back to Orlando? She didn't know, so she packed and waited.
Two days before the expiry date, the police came with new orders for another five years. There would be no New Year celebration for Winnie Mandela, not for another five years. And then what? How long would it go on? It is her fifth banning order and it will not expire until 1986. By that time she will have been banned for twenty-five years, and she will be fifty-two years old.
Brandfort location must have wept for Winnie but I think they also rejoiced that she would remain with them. She used to say laughingly that if she were allowed to go back to Johannesburg she would keep No. 802 Brandfort as her country cottage, keep her loving links with the people there.
There was only one concession in the new orders. Winnie could receive bona fide visitors (whatever that might mean!) one at a time in her home. This she could not do before. But not me. I am still a listed leper and she may not speak to me.
Arrangements had been made for Winnie to pay her first "freedom" visit to Nelson. She could not go for the New Year weekend for there would be no time to obtain permission from the magistrate to leave Brandfort or be relieved of the house arrest. She must have hoped that all this would not be necessary. It was, and there was no freedom visit. I remembered what she had said years ago when her bans were lifted. "There is really no difference between being banned and unbanned." I wondered if she felt the same way now.
Winnie's life is lonelier than before for Zindzi is grown up and must live her own life. There are now four grandchildren. Zeni has two daughters and a son. Zindzi has her own little daughter, Zoleka, who lives mostly with Winnie. Sometimes the other three children are in Brandfort and then it must be crowded in that small house, but what joy they must bring.
Nelson has been in prison for more than twenty years. He spent eighteen years on Robben Island in that great company of his fellow political prisoners, even though he has not been allowed to be with all of them. In April 1982, in the middle of the night, Nelson and three other leaders from the Rivonia trial, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni, were suddenly and secretly transported to a maximum-security gaol on the mainland. They were not allowed to say goodbye to the comrades they had suffered with, lived with and, I am sure, laughed with too. It was a vicious and cruel move that as yet remains totally unexplained. Or was the ANC leadership too powerful to be contained on Robben Island?
In 1982 Winnie was awarded an honorary degree from Haverford College in the USA. Needless to say, she wasn't allowed to go herself to receive it. Zindzi could not get a passport to go instead other mother, just as she had not been able to go to New York to receive her own Tanus Korczak prize for her poems.
Zeni has diplomatic status as the wife of Prince Thumbumusi of the royal house of Swaziland and she can snap her fingers at a South African passport. She doesn't need one and thus she was able to go to the USA to receive her mother's award.
Not only Winnie and her children but also black South Africa waits for the return of Mandela, as it waits for the freedom that must be fought for, to which there is no easy walk. Soweto waits for the return of Winnie Mandela as I too wait for her to come again down my garden path.
I know, too, that as surely as night follows day, these two, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, will return to us, for they have proved themselves indestructible, far stronger in their pride and their integrity than those who try to destroy them.
What I have written about the Mandelas is neither their triumph nor their tragedy alone. It is the triumph and the tragedy of all the prisoners, the detained, the banned and the banished. Nelson and Winnie and their children are closer to me than any other family in South Africa and they have made me a part of themselves. That it why I have written so much of them, of what they mean to South Africa and to me. Dr Manas Buthelezi once said of Winnie that she had tasted what redemptive suffering means. It is so. She has accepted this suffering for the sake of her people and her land.
There are others. Especially there are families who have handed down the tradition of redemptive suffering from father to son, from mother to daughter, even to three generations.
I think of the Naidoos, with an unbroken record of three generations of gaol and sacrifice. First came Thambi Naidoo, a President of the Indian Congress and also close to Gandhi. He was gaoled fourteen times for passive resistance. His wife gave birth to a child during a period of imprisonment. His son, Naryan Naidoo, also a former President of the Indian Congress, went to gaol twice during the 1946 passive resistance campaign. His daughter-in-law, Naryan's wife, served two gaol sentences during the same campaign. Their eldest son, Indres, the first of the third generation to go to gaol, left the path of non-violent civil disobedience to serve a ten-year sentence on Robben Island for sabotage. Their daughter Shanthi, detained and persecuted, is also from this third generation of commitment and courage. "I don't want to give evidence," she said in court, "because I will not be able to live with my conscience if I do."
Shanthi proclaimed her refusal to become a state witness against her two friends, Winnie Mandela and Joyce Sikhakane, both accused in the 1970 trial of Winnie and twenty-two others. "It has been a good friendship," she said. That was all, but she also told the court of what she had endured during the continuous interrogation of several days and nights without rest or sleep until, "My mind became muddled and I lost touch with reality." Whatever statement may have been thus barbarously extracted, Shanthi would not testify to it in court. She was sentenced to two months' imprisonment for her refusal.
Prema, the youngest son, has come to the end of a year's gaol ”” for finding shelter for one night only for a political gaol escapee. It was only for one night but it cost Prema one year of his liberty in addition to the five months he first spent in detention before his trial. He testified to days and nights of savage torture at the hands of the security police.
I think of the Cachalia family, the grandfather in gaol at the beginning of the century in Gandhi's passive resistance campaign, his sons Yusuf and Molvi in the 1946 and 1952 campaigns. I think of Amina Cachalia, my companion in the journey to find the banished people. She served a gaol sentence in 1952 and she and her husband Yusuf endured many years under banning orders. And Cachalia children of this generation know detention and banning orders.
Walter Sisulu, General Secretary of the ANC until he was banned in 195 3, is now a life prisoner. Like Mandela he has been taken from Robben Island to another prison. Like Mandela, his wife carries on his commitment actively. Seventeen years of continuous bans and house arrest failed to daunt Albertina's spirit and she was back on the platform addressing political meetings within days of the expiry of her bans. In 1982 she was banned again, punished for her courage and her commitment, not convicted of any crime.
Their children carry on the Sisulu tradition. Lindiwe, the eldest daughter, was detained for a year in solitary confinement before she was twenty-one but never charged in any court of law. Zwelakhi, the youngest son, is banned and under house arrest. He too spent many months, solitary in a gaol cell, detained but uncharged.
The Weinberg family lived close to me, Eli, Violet and their daughter Sheila. Gaol claimed them all in 1965, the parents for involvement in the Communist Party and Sheila at eighteen for painting ANC slogans. On release from gaol Violet and Eli lived through years of house arrest and bans. Ten years later, Sheila was also banned and house-arrested. Eli eventually left South Africa, to die after a few years in his exile. Violet had followed her husband and now lives lonely without him, far from South Africa but unable to return. Sheila has remained.
I wonder whether for the youngest generation of such families, the little children only beginning to grow up now, there will still be need for them to sacrifice themselves and their liberty?