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Transcript of June 23, 1990, interview with Winnie Mandela

Transcript of June 23, 1990, interview between Winnie Mandela and Tanya Hart, WBZ-TV, and Danny Schechter, "South Africa Now," field produced by Robin Washington

Tanya Hart: Mrs. Mandela, about a year after you were married, your husband said to you that you may spend most of your married life apart. Unfortunately, he was telling the truth. But the day when you walked hand-in-hand out of the prison gates together, what were your first thoughts?

Winnie Mandela: In the years of my solitude, being part and parcel of the (unintelligible), I never really thought of myself. I think in the South African situation you tend to forget about the individual. You know, with so much national harassment, the oppression and suppression of the entire nation reduces the value of the individual, so much so that I've never thought of myself. At that particular moment, I thought of my people. I thought of -- "My God, I can only pray that this means the last leg of our struggle and that we are running the last mile towards our liberation." I never thought of myself.

Q: Your husband, I understand, grabbed your hand and held on tightly because I don't think he was quite prepared at that particular moment for what was about to become of him.

A: To explode (smiles). It's true.

Q: But he said that you gave him strength. What did he mean by that? And what kind of strength did you provide for him that you hadn't been providing over the 27 years?

A: Well, it was the strength that we had been giving each other, really. For the past 27 years. I would visit him from exile and during my house arrest days. And instead of giving him strength and encouragement, I went for my own -- if I was a battery, I would have said to be recharged.

It was that sort of strength he was talking about. But at that particular moment, I must confess, we both didn't realize that this is what had happened in the years. And that in the 27 years with the banning of the African National Congress, what the government had simply succeeded in doing, was to literally concretize those ideals we had stood for; those ideals, some of us were unfortunate enough to pay for with the supreme price, their lives.

Even up to that stage, we too were not aware to what degree the African National Congress had made any effect in the country and externally. You must remember we were dealing here with a banned organization and all the work was done underground. So there was no way of testing the strength of the ANC. And at that particular moment, it was as if one had put a political barometer in the country and the whole world was a stage through which we measured the strength of the movement.

Q: You of course had been carrying on in your husband's stead all of these years. How have women been involved politically and how have women shaped the movement politically over the past decade, two decades?

A: As I said, the black women in the South African situation had a particularly difficult time. It's extremely difficult if you are dealing with a banned organization. The government in fact had almost succeeded in crushing completely the women's struggle. What the government kept doing was to ban individuals within organizations. We had what was called the women's league which was the female branch of the African National Congress, and that was banned with the banning of the ANC. But then the women launched what was known as the Federation of South African Women, which was the only legitimate platform for which the women could express their views. And what happened was the government would simply ban each layer of officials, the leadership. For instance, they would ban the entire executive, and that drove many women to operate underground.

So the past 27 years have really shut out the women's organizations as such. At present, there is no national women's movement as such. What is happening is the various provinces have got women's organizations at the provincial level, and we are now working toward launching a national movement. We should be in the form of the original women's league.

Q: Will any of the funds raised here, during this tour of America, will any of the funds go specifically toward the women's movement?

A: Oh yes. As a matter of fact, I am on a mission to raise specific funds particularly for the women. Because you can well imagine the reconstruction of the organization is going to be a very costly process.

We are faced here with men who left homes years ago. They either went into exile -- and some who went into exile and infiltrated back into the country in the form of our military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. What has happened to those guerillas who survived the tortures of Pretoria and were jailed for a number of years. They went to prison. They returned from prison after serving 18 or 20 years. And you can well imagine what happens in the South African situation, there are these (unintelligible) most of them find that they no longer have homes where they originally have homes because we haven't got properly stable families. We have this system of homelands where you are expected to go and live in your own area, in terms of your own ethnic tribe.

So the government has succeeded in destroying the fiber of a family unit. You rarely find in such situations a complete family unit where the men would go into prison and come back and find he still has a home. So we are faced with this reconstruction period, at the same time it will be a transition period, which is extremely difficult taking into account the problems of the country, the problems of apartheid. We live in our own ghettoes. We are sectionalized in terms of Indian, colored, black, white. And we are faced with this gross housing shortage. The ills of apartheid. South Africa's economy is in tatters and the country is literally -- bankrupt because of apartheid. We need resources. The reconstructed women's movement, and to be in a position -- to build homes for our husbands and sons and daughters.

Q: Everyone is now -- I shouldn't say everyone. But many people in the world and especially here in the United States are aware of the appalling conditions under which people have been living in South Africa. On the Phil Donahue show the other day you said that you would be the first one to raise your fist, raise arms against the white government if something isn't done soon. If apartheid doesn't end soon. Does that contradict the peace message that your husband is trying to bring here in America?

A: It doesn't contradict it at all. What I am saying is we are the women who waited. We are the women who kept burying our children all these years. We are the women who have seen in a physical sense the horrors of apartheid. We are the women who collected the bodies of our children in 1976. We are the women the government has brutalized year in and year out. We are the mothers of the children who have been turned into vegetables by the South African government. We are the mothers whose babies have shot on our backs and sometimes we fall with those babies. The atrocities that have been committed by Pretoria just arise in every mother such bitterness which you cannot put in words.

Our leaders are saying in that mood there can be nothing constructive that will come out of that bitterness. Our leaders are trying to convince us, those of us who have been so brutalized, so as not to trust anyone. They are saying, 'Let us try to come to terms with these men.' And the fact that DeKlerk has been persuaded from 1976, he was in the original -- 1986, I beg your pardon -- he was in the original cabinet. He was working with P.W. Botha. He was in the same caucus that took those decisions that have widowed us, that have made our children vegetables. He was part of that. And now because of the international pressure and the internal pressure inside they come to terms with this inevitable situation what we have been telling them year in and year out. We have been banned for speaking the truth. We have died for speaking the truth. We have been exiled for speaking the truth. We have been driven out of the country, our children from the age of 16 have had to flee the country because they dared to speak that truth. DeKlerk has only realized now. We are expected to deal with those men. Men amongst whom some of them have had to come forth and say, "Look, we cannot take this anymore. We belong to killer squads. We formed the hit squads. We were taking instructions from senior members of the government." We have not heard that the skies have fallen because of there are these confessions from the government about their owns acts of atrocity. And yet, they will go out of their way to single out a few rebels within the ANC and Tanzania, parade them before the world and say that we committed to acts of aggression against these youngsters, they were brutalized in our camps --

Q: You're talking about the case that was against the young people that worked with you?

A: Yes. We are dealing with people like that. All I am saying therefore is that I cannot forget yesterday yet politically. I cannot forget what they have done. Throughout these years, I myself was in the forefront of this struggle.

Whilst I am prepared to listen to my leaders who say that the only solution is a peaceful one now. "We have buried enough. We have cried enough. We have seen the blood flowing. We have shared rivers of tears. OK, then let us sit and talk with these same men." I cannot trust them. I know for myself. I would be deceiving myself if I wake up tomorrow and I tell you that I can trust these men. I cannot.

So what I am saying is if the talks fail, as they may, we know we've got friends. We have now used the world to test it. We have tested it . We have used a political barometer, which is ourselves, to test the sympathy of the world. So when that happens, when those talks fail, no price is too high to pay for this freedom. We are prepared to shed to the last drop of blood, we as mothers of South Africa, to liberate that country, if not to live the kind of life we have lived under the most racist and fascist regime.

South Africa is a blistering inferno of racial hatred, and whilst these men are talking about talks, the police are continuing killing our children.

Q: They're still doing the raids, aren't they?

A: They are still raiding our homes. Right now, whilst we were on this trip, when we were in France we heard that they had raided our own house, and

Q: Your home?

A: Yes, and raided our home. These are the people we are talking to. So I am saying I don't trust them. They must give me reasons to trust them.

Q: What do you want Americans to come away with after your visit? When you're gone, what do you want us to remember? And what do you want to know? And most importantly, what do you want us to do?

A: Well, you already told us what you are going to do, which is what we came to ask for. Besides material assistance, all we ares simply come to ask you is keep the pressure on. Intensify the pressure and keep the pressure on.

Q: God bless South Africa. Thank you.

Danny Schechter: We're doing a documentary of the whole trip. What did you expect in visiting New York?

Winnie Mandela: Well, I had great expectations everywhere.

(Technical comments between Hart, Schechter and Robin Washington)

Schechter: What was your expectation in coming to the United States? What did you and the delegation expect?

A: Well, I may not be in a position to answer for the rest of the delegation. In so far as I'm concerned, I had many expectations. If you remember, at my age, this is the first time that I have left the borders of my country. I've been banned all my life. I've been under house arrest, and I've never been able to travel. I expected to be in a position to thank friends who were able to assist and to keep that part of the soul that remained with me together. There were times when even that part that was left with me almost fell apart.

Of course we also expected a warm reaction and we expected that the same friends who have been with us, who have expressed their solidarity in very many ways, through the Congress, and the American public, that we would be able to share and exchange ideas and we would be able to decide together what to do in order to intensify our struggle.

Schechter: What I was trying to get at was the scale of the reaction of the streets of New York.

A: Oh, the scale of the reaction.

Q: When you drove through Brooklyn, what did you think of as you saw the streets lined --

A: Disbelief. I've never seen so many people in one day in one hour in my life. And I don't think I will have that experience again. Hopefully, I am hoping that we will have that kind of reaction the day we raise the flag of the African National Congress in South Africa.

Q: Seeing those children in Brooklyn jumping on your car --

A: The most moving scene. The question is unfair. You can't describe that kind of thing. You can't describe that emotion. It's like a question I keep being asked, "How did you manage in these 27 years? How do you manage to still have so much energy?" How can you answer that? There are questions that have no answers. I can't put that in words. I am not eloquent enough to describe that type of (unintelligible). I will have to go and wake up Shakespeare.

Q: When you were in Harlem and you realized the woman next to you was Mrs. Malcolm X. You looked astonished and you grabbed her.?

A: Yes because I identify so directly with her. I identify so directly with the ideas that Malcolm X stood for. And in her, I just saw a real connection with Malcolm X himself. And of course it is no secret how I feel about the armed struggle.