TUESAY Column by VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
No, they are not exactly the same; the fact that they bear different names means they are two distinct persons; they have not even met each other face to face as their paths had not crossed each other’s, at least not in their present earth lives as they were born poles apart – one in the southern part of Africa and the other in the western part of Africa. Yes, they are both from that part of the continent also called, sub-saharan Africa, that region of Africa that is populated mainly by blacks and both countries were once colonies of Britain which is why they are both members of the Commonwealth and participated in the just concluded Commonwealth Games of which the Queen of England is the titular head of Commonwealth nations or members, bequeathing to them the English language as their official language, notwithstanding that they all have their mother tongues. And while both countries are still bearing names given them by the English, their paths to political freedom was totally different.
Whereas South Africans fought a bitter and debilitating ‘war’ to free themselves from the choking yoke of minority, apartheid rule in which hundreds of people were martyred, Nigeria literally got its political freedom on a platter of gold with no blood spilled. Iron sharpeneth iron. Having passed through the furnace during the apartheid years like her husband, Mandela, suffering torture, banishment, etc, in her quest for her peoples’ freedom, she emerged from it courageous as ever, her spirit unbowed. That she, a woman endured all those deprivations – the deprivation of not seeing her husband for decades because he was in jail, the deprivation of not seeing her little, growing children for several years because they were moved to stay elsewhere with friends/relatives while she marked time in prison and exile with their own concomitant deprivations and harassments by the patently wicked apartheid regime, makes her story all the more telling. Many a human being, nay woman, would have caved in in the face of these unmitigated harassments that lasted several years.
It is even a surprise to me that she lived up to 81 years and Mandela himself 90 years given that the effects of those long years of deprivations would have had some effect on their physical and emotional health. It is a mark of their steely characteristic that the couple who were separated in 1992 by mutual consent but still remained the best of friends thereafter, struggled against death till their last moments on earth. They did not give up easily as they were hospitalised for a long while before giving up the ghost. One of the iconic images of the 21st century is the world-wide televised image of a rather weary but elegant Mandela walking hand in hand with Winnie as he stepped out of that notorious Robben Island after
decades of confinement in prison, both of them giving the black salute to cheering crowds. Both would have drawn some strength from the fact they were able to see their people gain political freedom during their lifetime with political authority transferred from the white minority tribe to the black majority population in an election that saw the blacks voting for the first time in centuries.
That too was a deeply emotional exercise for black South Africans of voting age. And Nelson Mandela emerged as that country’s first black president, lending credence to the saying that in a democracy while the minority will have their say, the majority would have their way. Nelson and Winnie Mandela would therefore, have taken solace and been comforted that their struggles were not in vain. What is more, Mandela bore no bitterness against his erstwhile antagonists who inflicted so much pain on him during the apartheid years. What a remarkable human being. It was no surprise that world leaders, converged in South Africa, including his former enemies, to bid him farewell during his state funeral.
Winnie’s contributions were equally appreciated by her countrymen and countrywomen as she was also accorded a state funeral last week with the appellation, ‘mother of the nation’. This is despite the narrative to diminish her worth by noting that she was in fact convicted of murder and fraud. One of her grandchildren at the funeral obsequies angrily wondered why some people were now vigorously echoing such narrative, warning that the family would not tolerate attempts to tar her with a black brush. And the Economic Freedom Party (EFP) that broke away from the ANC headed by fiery James Malema remarked that she was being vilified by some elements in the media because she is a woman, arguing that some others were also guilty of what she was being accused of without people shouting over them or concerned about them.
Now, a common feature between Winnie, ex wife of former South African president, Nelson Mandela and Aisha, wife of current Nigerian President, Mohammadu Buhari is courage. This is aside both of them being fair complexioned, beautiful, with an eye for fashion. When some time ago Mrs. Buhari was reported to have chided her husband, the president and vowing not to support him for another term unless things changed, my first instinct was to say that she was misquoted and expected an immediate rebuttal. There was no such rebuttal instead her media office put out a terse statement saying that Aisha still stood by her husband. Her words were not explicitly denied. Mrs. Buhari has now explained why she did what in Africa is rather rare — publicly critisize one’s husband, the number one citizen, in a continent where women are to be seen nor heard. “I need to state that my position was a result of my sense of justice and not confrontation or disrespect. I was brought up to stand by the truth and this is how I have always been”.