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Farida Omar: Winnie’s story depicts the cruelty of Apartheid against the women of struggle

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By Thakira Desai

The mother of the nation, Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela, has passed away, but memory of her legacy has forced the chalice of buried emotions to be purged throughout the country. Aged 81 at the time of her death, Mama Winnie spent most of her life shackled by the apartheid system. The magnifying glass, however, continues to examine and expose the downfalls of her journey as a woman who strove for freedom, while raising a family with the diode of the Apartheid gun firmly pointed in its direction. For fellow stalwart and activist, Farida Omar, hers is the story of an unnatural life that depicts in all its cruelty the racist regime.

Omar, the wife of struggle lawyer, Dullah Omar, met Mama Winnie in 1982, when her former husband, president Nelson Mandela, was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison. She was assigned to transport Mama Winnie from the airport to the prison for her hour-long visits with Mandela.

“The first time I met her, I just saw the most beautiful woman coming from the plane and I said ‘that must be Winnie’. I ran up to her and she came running to me and we just hugged each other so warmly.”

Their friendship began over a warm meal at the Omar’s home.

Speaking to VOC News, Omar described Mama Winnie’s emotions as excited enroute to each visit. But, her and her children’s sadness would surface following each visit and the pair would return to the airport in mournful silence.

“They were very happy that they were going to see their grandfather and their father. But, you could see the sadness in them going to the prison and then coming back and looking very nice again, to think that they have seen their grandfather and Zindzi has seen her father. So, it was wonderful to be with them during that moment,” Omar reflected.

Omar says that Mama Winnie’s fierce fight for freedom spoke to the unrivalled bravery of the women of the land who were the source of strength, warmth and loyalty for the incarcerated and the persecuted.

“The women were very, very brave fighting against everything that was unjust. Many times we would go and protest for the release of all the prisoners – we were very, very vocal.”

A devoted wife and mother herself, Omar described the difficulties that Mama Winnie experienced as the wife of an incarcerated freedom fighter as having placed Mama Winnie in a prison of her own. Her family life forced into an indefinite pause.

“I think that she went through a very, very hard life. Because, that’s what I always thought  about whenever I saw her going away from him to her home – at the airport – to think she was going to an empty house, not seeing her husband for so long and for so many years – it was very, very painful for me to see that.”

VOC reporter, Thakira Desai’s full interview with struggle stalwart and activist, Farida Omar:

VOC 91.3fm


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