Just how much important is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of late Nelson Mandela? Not much to Jacob Zuma, South African president. Dressed in black and seated very close to Graca Machel, Mandela’s widow at the memorial service for Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, Winnie failed to make the list of dignitaries recognized by Zuma. Reading a prepared speech to an audience, which included more than 70 world leaders, Zuma specially recognized Machel first fondly referring to her as “ Mama”.
He then conspicuously ignored Winnie, recognizing the presence of other foreign leaders in stead. But if Winnie felt slighted, it was well hidden beneath a layer of cloths and powder. The human rights activist sat stoic without betraying any emotion.
Though divorced in 1996, Winnie has sustained the role of a wife to Mandela, severally commenting on family issues,
During Mandela’s protracted struggle with a recurring lung infection, Winnie had often, overshadowed Machel, giving out statements on the state of health of the late anti apartheid leader.
There are two reasons why Zuma would give recognition to Graca over Winnie. First is the fact that Winnie had divorced Mandela, a development that made Mandela to go into wedlock with Graca. So, officially, Graca is the recognised wife of the late South African president. But there is a second reason why Zuma would rather not acknowledge Winnie. Towards the end of her former husband’s lifetime, she appeared to have come into a friction with the administration of Zuma. At a time, when Zuma made a publicized visit to Mandela, who looked sickly and weak, Winnie had blasted the South African president saying, “ I honestly cannot put in words how hurt the family was. It was one of the most insensitive things for anyone to have done.’’
But Zuma’s party, the African National Congress, ANC, also took Winnie to the cleaners. In a statement, Jackson Mthembu, ANC spokesman said, “ we are in contact on a daily basis with the Mandela family and these issues that have been publicly aired by Winnie Madikizela- Mandela have not been raised in any of these occasions.’’ Winnie had two children for Mandela who was married thrice in his lifetime.