Looking back at Winnie at home with four generations of Mandelas
Not only was she the mother of a nation but she was also a mother to two beautiful women.
PHOTO: Drum archives

In August 2007, DRUM was in for a treat when we joined Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter for an unforgettable day at her home.

Mama Winnie invited us to her double-storey home in Orlando West, Soweto, on a Sunday – a family day when as many members of the clan as possible got together to share food, news and gossip.

For the occasion four generations of Mandelas joined: Winnie’s daughter Zindzi (then 47), her granddaughter Zoleka (then 27) and her great-granddaughter Zenani (10 at the time), who tragically died in a car crash in 2010.  

It’s clear the former first lady loved gardening – bordering the pavement outside the high white wall was what she called her Garden of Hope, a colourful array of flowering beds she and Zenani created out of barren, stony soil.

“Mama and I planted this garden because everything was bare and sad,” Zenani said, as she led us up to her great-grandmother’s six-bedroom home. “She wanted to beautify it, so we both dug up the ground and prepared it for planting. This plant here is mine,” she added, proudly pointing to a thorn tree. “I planted the seed and watered it.”

Zenani was Mam’Winnie’s daughter Zindzi’s grandchild.

As the ladies prepared for our photoshoot we had a look around the house. Each room was filled with plants and boasted its own colour scheme – for instance, there were two lounges, one with green sofas and one decorated mainly in red. The place was crammed with memorabilia, awards, gifts, paintings and photographs from Mam’Winnie’s colourful life.

Her daughters, Zenani and Zindzi, brought her much joy and provided her with plenty of grandchildren. Reflecting on her 70th birthday at the time, “We had a big family dinner and it was lovely,” Winnie recalled. “The children take charge of birthdays whether it’s Madiba’s or mine. Their plans are always secretive and it’s always a lovely surprise.”

But why, we had to ask, do so many names in the Mandela family start with the letter Z? “The only plan Madiba and I had for our children was that all the family members would have names that began with Z,” Mama Winnie explained.

“It was to symbolise the struggle – giving them the last letter of the alphabet would signify and herald a new beginning.”

But there were plenty of turbulent times for Madiba and Mam’Winnie before their children could celebrate a new beginning in apartheid-free South Africa.

Zindzi was just 18 months old and Zenani a year older when Madiba went to Robben Island and they endured much hardship when their mother was targeted too. Yet from an early age they understood the situation. “We knew why Tata was away and why Mama was often detained,” Zindzi said. “Our childhood might have been compromised but we were very aware of the importance of the struggle.”

Her mother always had “amazing strength” and played the role of both parents when Madiba was away. “I learnt the true power of a woman and how she can be a fighter and a nurturer at the same time. This is what I’ve tried to pass on to my children,” Zindzi said.

Zoleka also grew up politically aware, Zindzi said. “When she was just nine years old we were crossing a roadblock near what was then Jan Smuts Airport,” Zindzi recalled. “I was carrying a grenade on my person and she knew. She asked if she could carry it for me as we were nearing the police because she was a child and they wouldn’t search her. The grenade wasn’t assembled so I gave it to my daughter. That’s how aware she was of the situation.”

But Zenani growing up in a free South Africa made Mama Winnie proud. “The promise of a better life kept me strong through the years,” she said. “I am grateful for the route my life has taken. I believe God is the hand of fate in my life and He weaves the tapestry it’s defined by, constantly adding to the picture and filling in the stitches.”

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