You are here:  Home  >  Articles  >  Current Article

Love story of the century

By   /  January 29, 2014  /  No Comments

    Print       Email

What went through the mind of Winnie Mandela when the world serenaded her dead husband? Was she lamenting what might have been? Why was it that she, once lionised as the angel of the struggle, had fallen into a sorry footnote of the Mandela legend?
Theirs was not just a love story, a partnership, or marriage gone sour. The story of Winnie and Nelson was the love story of the 20th century. With about one and half decades gone in this century, no love story has surpassed their fiery narrative of the heart.
It is essentially a great love story because of its failure, its inevitable run against the rock, its tragic filaments. All great love stories are tragic. Shakespeare had to kill Romeo and Juliet to bring fairy to their romantic tale. In the novel The Great Gatsby, a man spends his whole life to acquire a big mansion and lavishes the whole town with party after party to gain a girl’s attention. He fails to enthrall the damsel but dies for her. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau blighted his fabled reign with his marriage to Margaret Sinclair whose love he could not combine with his work as the nation’s helmsman. The list is benumbing. Humphrey and Lolita. Samson and Delilah. Kafka’s Gregory Samsa. Anthony and Cleopatra. Achilles and Helen of Troy. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Caroline was the last American queen because she knew John F. Kennedy. Not Marilyn Monroe whose story was another bloodied odyssey of love. As for JFK, some accounts link his assassination to some love trysts.
Mandela was married not to Winnie, not to Graca, but the world. But he died without what was dearest to him: love of family. Nothing personified that love more than Winnie. In an interview with American Charlie Rose, an embarrassed Madiba spoke about his time in jail, his preference of his family to the love of the world, and how he sometimes had self-doubts about the struggle and wondered if it was worth all the sweat and solitude, especially given the harassment his wife Winnie suffered in the hands of Apartheid goons.
In his reticence and shadows on his face in his Charlie Rose interview, Mandela could not conceal the love he still had for Winnie. Yet Winnie’s part in the collapsed romance has tended to fire the interests of feminists. What did you expect Winnie to do with the husband in Jail for 27 years? ask her defenders. She had blood flowing in her veins, she had suitors in the struggle, she was young, bewitching, eminently sexual. The husband ought to understand that he was not available to sate her needs.
By the time Mandela left his gaol, Winnie was already no longer young, about 60 years. So why did she not abandon the honey, unlike Winnie the Pooh, and go back to her husband? Why did she not mortify her flesh? Rather she kept on pursuing the romance with one of her gang leaders, who was already married when Mandela left jail.
They argued that Winnie sacrificed flesh for myth, she lost the opportunity of being Africa’s greatest woman. She might have been at Mandela’s side, in the battle for Africa’s greatest struggles, against tyranny and dictatorship, and for equalities of all peoples and demographics. She might have finagled her way into the graces of the people and run for the presidency of South Africa.
Rather it was a divorce story that ruined the narrative. Mandela lamented that years after he left Robben Island, Winnie had not spent a night in his bedroom. Evidently, a cuckolded Mandela wanted her wife back after the romp with other men. He understood that Winnie had never been his wife, even before he went to jail. He was always in the fight, absent at home, in a peripatetic thrust for the freedom of his people. Winnie never enjoyed him before jail and when in jail. “Don’t ask of me, my love, the love I once had for thee,” crooned poet Mahmud Darwish. Mandela may have had part of that sentiment. When he left jail, it was Winnie on his side. He had her picture in his jail, and caressed it as though groping his wife.
But the romance did not actualise when he returned. How could anyone blame Winnie, who had never connected with the man? That is the existential problem. Winnie lost the opportunity to be like women who grew into their own on their spouses’ shoulders. Corazon Aquino was leader of the Philippines, but before that she called herself a plain house wife. The assassination of her husband thrust her into greatness. She rallied the nation on behalf of her husband in what was called people power. She conquered the foes, became president and initiated solid reforms in the economy, human rights and democratic practices.
Hilary Clinton stood by her man in the fiery days of the Lewinsky scandal. She was adroit a politician, a role she never could have attained without Clinton. The medical programme of Obama today was first initiated when she was first lady. Hilary became senator, the most travelled secretary of state and is still a possible nominee for president of the United States. Caroline Kennedy, in spite of her marriage to Greek millionaire Onassis, still earned the unofficial status of democratic queen.
Argentina had Eva Peron, whose husband birthed what historians call the Peronist era in Argentine history. Eva was a beauty and star politician, thanks to her husband. She rose by fighting for her man while Juan Peron was in jail. Her loyalty touched the man’s tender parts. She was even rumoured to have mobilized the rally that freed him from prison. He married Eva, in spite of negative stories about the beautiful actress. She rose to become a great politician, feminist, fighter for social justice. She even soared to mystical grandeur. In all of Latin America, her picture stands next to the Virgin of Guadalupe as the most popular woman. Movies, plays, novels have bedecked her, and Madonna starred as Evita in a famous movie of that name.
But Mandela could not blame Winnie for not soaring with him. He knew that he, in a sense, killed the woman’s spirit with his lack of romance. But Winnie made her choice. She opted for mortal joys in place of images like those of Aquino and Peron, or even Clinton. She chose to be martyr for love rather than country, and the wrong love. She opted against sublime immortality. But she has her immortality assured, but a much stained and low and humanised one. Maybe when the Madiba was being put to rest, she reflected back and wondered if she could have resisted the promptings of the flesh and stood by the man who was about two decades older. But Juan Peron was also that much older than Peron. Eva Peron died at 33, and she had a state burial. Some analysts said her advantage was a short life. But who knows.
The Madiba story reincarnates a classic South African love story: between the warrior Shaka the Zulu and Noliwe, the beauty. In spite of his beauty, Shaka takes her life. Poets and historians argue that Shaka kills her because she humanises him, he is afraid of her, he cannot stand such glow of a humanity in his warrior life. So maybe the Madiba killed Winnie, that is Winnie’s love, so he could be the love of the world. The poet Senghor sums it in a poem Noliwe: “I would not have killed her if I loved her less/I had to escape from doubt.”
Mandela died but with about his full manhood, having failed to conquer the love of his life. He gained the whole world but not his heart throb. Winnie will go down in history as the one who pooh-poohed history, or was pooh-poohed by history since her story ended for us when she divorced the husband who romanced the world. Mandela did not love the country less, but he loved Winnie more. That pain followed him to his stately grave.

    Print       Email
  • Published: 5 years ago on January 29, 2014
  • By:
  • Last Modified: January 29, 2014 @ 10:10 am
  • Filed Under: Articles
  • Tagged With:

Remember to Comment

You might also like...

In Touch Awards concluded

Read More →