Winnie Mandela (2011




Director:     .

Starring:     Jennifer Hudson (Winnie Mandela), Terrence Howard (Nelson Mandela), Elias Koteas (De Vries), Wendy Crewson (Mary Botha), Aubrey Poo (Peter Magubane), Unathi Kapela (Nancy 12 & 13), Fezeka Ndlazilwana (Nancy 8), Talitha Ndima (Nancy 10, 20, 28 & 30), Professor Mavuso (Columbus Madikizela), Nomsa Xaba (Makhulu), Bongi Mdongwe (Gertrude), Tom Fairfoot (BBC Reporter), Jonathan Rands (Judge De Wet), Jennifer Steyn (School Inspector), Andre Van Der Merwe (School Inspector).

life of Mandela's wife, Winnie Mandela



Spoiler Warning:

A baby is born in an African village.  The mid-wife tells little Nancy to go get her father now.  Nancy rushes off to the school where her father is teaching the children.  Dad dismisses the students and runs for home with Nancy.  The dad arrives at home and wants to know if they finally have a son?  No.  This is the sixth girl in a row.  Dad takes the baby in his arms and tells everyone that he is going to name her Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela.  Winifred means "a friend of peace". 

As a small girl Winnie would fight the boys in a game using sticks instead of boxing gloves.  Her father is not happy about this.  He says he has told her before.  Stop trying to be what she is not.  Winnie wants to break some of the old traditions.  A woman tells the father that Winnie tries so hard to be the boy that her father wanted so badly.

A white man and a white woman come to speak to Winnie's father.  Father tells them that he is Columbus Madikizela and he's the headmaster of the Bizana Elementary School.  The white woman tells the educator:  "Next time, have your pickaninnies chase the cattle off the road."  Father ignores the insult.  He shows the two adults that in their school they have no desks or chairs.  The whites are too impatient and rude to the teacher and students and quickly take off in their car. 

1953.  Winnie gets on a bus to go to the city of Johannesburg to have a more formal education.  When she gets off the bus she is warmly greeted by two white women who are very pleased that Winnie will be staying with them.  They are very pleased to hear that Winnie is the daughter of a Xhosa teacher and son of a chief.  ["The Xhosa people . . .  are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa living in south-east South Africa, and in the last two centuries throughout the southern and central-southern parts of the country."  -- from Wikipedia.]

Student girls of different colors take Winnie with them town down. They tell her that she studies too much.  They have Winnie try on one of the dresses in the store, but that upsets the white managers as they say that no one will want to buy the dress now, because people like Winnie, don't bathe.  They make her take off the dress. 

A young Nelson Mandela speaks to a large crowd of people.  The four girl students are entranced by Mandela's speaking, but the white police break up the gathering.  The police say this is an illegal gathering and they must disperse.  As for Manela, they arrest him. 

The girls stop to have something to drink.  There Winnie is introduced to Peter Magubane, a photographer for Drum Magazine.  Peter takes a photo of Winnie. 

Winnie stands in a long line for a bus.  Nelson and his friend Oliver see her standing there and Nelson stops his car.  He wants Oliver to ask her if she needs a ride? Winnie says no. 

Nelson remembers that he saw Winnie's photograph in Drum Magazine.  She checks the magazine to make sure. 

Nelson talks to the other members of his group about strategy.  He reminds them that their struggle is for justice, not domination.  The police surround the meeting house and the men inside try to escape.   The leader of the raid demands to know where are Mandela and Tambo.  The guys say they are not here, but the guys know that they have the two wanted men is a hidden space behind a closet.  The police search the place but can't find the two men. 

A school official congratulates Winnie on getting a full scholarship.  He says she will have a master's degree in a year or two.  The male official wants Winnie to go on to something really great that will help both the school and Winnie.  Winnie says she is needed here and wants to stay as a social worker.  She says this is the first time a black woman has been offered the job. 

A man gives a box to Winnie.  She is shocked to discover inside a new baby.  Adelaide tells her:  "We get at least 10 abandoned babies a week."  Adelaide introduces Winnie to Oliver.  Oliver invites Winnie to have dinner with them at Dizzie's.  Winnie accepts.  Then Nelson Mandela joins them at dinner.  The next day he takes her out to lunch.  He tells her he likes her because she is not afraid of him.  They go out for a drive in the country  They kiss. 

Nelson is practice boxing in a gym.  A trainer tells him to listen to the radio.  The news is that Nelson and Oliver are going on trial next week on the charge of treason, which possibly includes a death sentence.   The whites are afraid that Nelson's program of the blacks burning their apartheid passports might lead to a revolution. 

Mandela marries Winnie.  The police watch the wedding.  They are there in force.  After the wedding, Nelson takes Winnie to their new home, a small apartment.  At night there is a loud bang on the door and the command to open the door.  It's the police.  Nelson opens the door for them and asks where is their warrant.  They don't have a warrant and they don't care about warrants.  The police call Winnie a whore and start making a mess of the apartment.  The chief De Vries eats some of Winnie's wedding cake. 

Winnie loses her job because of the police pressure.  She gets another job working with children. 

The news of the day:  "At Sharpeville, an industrial township near Johannesburg, thousands gathered outside a police station in protest against new laws requiring every African to carry a pass at all times.  The crowd refused to disperse, and the police opened fire."  Most of the people shot were shot in the back.  The Sharpeville Massacre shocks the world! 

The police drive the anti-apartheid movement underground.  Nelson has to leave his home. 

The news in the papers is that nations united to fight apartheid and world leaders support Mandela.  De Vries claims that Mandela is a communist through and through, and that he must be stopped at all costs. 

Nelson is caught by the police near Howick in Natal, wearing one of his many disguises, this time, as a chauffeur. 

Nelson is brought to trail again.  Winnie comes strutting into the courtroom dressed in traditional garb.  That upsets the judge, who says that outfit encourages dissension among the blacks.  But he doesn't throw her out of the courtroom. 

Nelson and others are all found guilty by the judge.  They all get life in prison.  Winnie tells the reporters that she will continue her husband's fight for a free and equal South Africa. 

Robben Island Prison.  Winnie hands out fliers saying to Free Nelson Mandela!

Winnie protests when she is given the run around when she tries to see her husband.  She says that she has not seen him in almost a year.  And the letters that reach Mandela are heavily censored with about half of each letter being blacked out.  She writes that life without him is hell and that loneliness is worse than fear. 

Winnie finally gets to see her husband in prison.  They talk by telephone with glass and steel separating them.  The guard so restricts their conversation that Winnie gets angry at the guard and criticizes him.  So the guard stops the visit. 

Winnie works hard to keep Mandela's ideals alive.  She leads thousands of women.  Some people even ask if Winnie is more dangerous than her husband.  De Vries doesn't like her stirring up the foreign press.  So he tells his staff the plan:  "Gentlemen, we must break her."

The police bust in Winnie's apartment, scaring her children, and throwing Winnie into a paddy wagon.  Then they throw her into solitary confinement.  She keeps shouting:  "Where are my children?"

Seven months later.  The abuse of Winnie shows on her face.  She stays defiant toward her interrogators.  For punishment they make her stand with her bare feet on a brick, while they insult and humiliate her. 

De Vries would like to torture her more, but his orders from the top are not to harm Mrs. Mandela physically.  But Winnie has been in solitary confinement longer than anyone's ever been before.  And they haven't let her wash herself for five months.  "She stinks", says the male guard to De Vries.  The chief gets really mad because, as he says, it seems the male guard admires Winnie.  He screams:  "We must never, never, never apologize for treating a terrorist like a terrorist." 

De Vries himself now tries to talk some "sense" into Winnie.  He offers her various incentives, but Winnie still won't cooperate.  So De Vries tells the guards to release Winnie. 

Winnie goes home to unite with her two girls. Later she goes to see Nelson in prison.  She tells him that her stint in solitary confinement just made her stronger.  She starts saying that they are winning the struggle.  They are taking kids straight from school to go into the army.  The guards grab her and take her away because she was talking politics. 

1976.  The blacks say no to being taught the language of Afrikaans of the original Dutch settlers of South Africa.  It is the language of their oppressors.  Then one day the police start shooting and beating the students.  Winnie gets a telephone call about the situation.  She rushes from her job to the school where one of her girls is a student.  Winnie arrives to find her daughter crying over the dead body of a male school friend. 

Winnie speaks out against the government at the mass burial of the students.  For this Winnie will be confined to the town of Brandfort.  In addition, she may not meet with more then one person at a time.  Brandfort is far away for where Winnies lives in Soweto. 

Winnie is taken to Brandfort and given another small place to live.  The police keep a watch on her to make sure she stays in Brandfort and behaves herself. 

A local white man wants to help Winnie.  He offers her a job and Winnie accepts.  Then the man turns up dead.  The police say it was an accident, but Winnie believes it was police who had the man killed. 

Winnie's faithful white boss Mary comes to visit her at the Brandfort clinic.  Winnie says it feels good to be helping people again.  These people have never had a medical clinic before.  The clinic is paid for by donations, some from overseas.  Mary tells her that back home there's rioting in the townships.  Some of the youths are calling for work stay-aways and boycotts of shop runs by whites.  Those who they brand as collaborators have tires put around them, gasoline is poured on them and they are burned to death.  This is called "necklacing".

The authorities now move Nelson Mandela to Pollsmoor from Robben Island. 

Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town.  Winnie visits her husband and asks him what's going on?  Nelson replies:  "Perhaps the government feels they are going to need some goodwill from us soon."  He approaches her saying he has not touched her skin in over 20 years. They kiss. 

1985.  The Minister of Law and Order has relaxed Winnie's ban.  She is allowed to go back to Soweto. 

Two black men come at night to threaten Winnie to get out of Soweto, while holding a knife to her throat.  Her daughter runs to go get help and a neighbor with a pistol chases the two men off. 

For Winnie a man organizes a soccer team, which is partly her bodyguard too.  They play football, but they also accompany Winnie wherever she goes.  This gives Winnie more power than she has ever had before.  A small boy named Stompie comes to see Winnie.  He is running from the police, and says he wants to be in Winnie's football club.  She accepts Stompie. 

Soon Winnie's football club starts acting like a wild gang, punishing opponents by carving initials of the African National Congress into men's chests.

Because Nelson Mandela is working with the government, a rival group turns against Mandela.  They throw a Molotov cocktail into Winnie's house, burning it to the ground.   

Nelson speaks with his wife about her United Football Club.  He says that the club is composed of thugs, tsotsis.  He gets reports that her boys are out of control.  He asks Winnie to get rid of them.  He says he also gets reports that Winnie is having sex with the football coach.  She evades the question.  He insists that she answer the question, but she just says he has no right to ask her that question. 

Back home Winnie embraces using the tool of necklacing to get rid of police informers.  She continues with her football club.  Winnie now starts getting very bad press.  World leaders condemn her for condoning violence. The papers say that Winnie it out of control.  Another headline:  "Winnie Mandela Football Club Terrorizes Soweto."  The ANC talks to Winnie to get her to cooperate.  Even De Vries says he almost feels sorry for the ANC for having to negotiate with Mrs. Mandela. 

The football coach tells Winnie that Stompie is a police spy.  One of the team members hears this, and warns Stompie that he must get out of here fast.  Stompie and his friend run to the church for sanctuary, but the coach and his followers take Stompie out by force and the reverend can't do anything to stop them. 

The news is that:  "The body of Stompie Seipei, a 13 year-old boy, who has been living at the Diepkloof home of Mrs. Winnie Mandela, has been found in a field in Soweto.  Police have opened a murder docket, though it is not yet clear whether the boy's death is connected to his stay at the home of Mrs. Mandela."

Victor Verster Gevangenis Prison.  Nelson speaks with Winnie about Stompie.  He condemns her actions and she just walks out. 

Winnie is charged with kidnapping and assault.  She is found to be guilty.  And now the key groups supporting Nelson accept a vote of no-confidence in Winnie.  She is stripped of all membership in the alliance.

De Vries tells the President of South Africa that Winnie has finally done herself in.  The president, however, is not concerned with Mrs. Mandela.  He tells De Vries that this has come too late to make any difference.  He says the only way out of this terrible political situation is to negotiate a peaceful transition of power to the ANC. De Vries tells the president that he is making a grave error.  The police chief refuses to shake the president's hand.  He turns around and walks out. 

Nelson tells Winnie that he has been in prison for some 27 years.  He thanks his wife for her invaluable support for him through these years.  It is a debt he says he can never repay.  He walks hand in hand with Winnie. 

A friend tells Nelson that Winnie can never be the first lady of the country.  This truth saddens Nelson.  He says Winnie suffered through 500 days in prison.  400 of those days were in solitary confinement.  She was exiled and harassed.  They even nearly killed her.  Her contributions to the movement were beyond calculation. 

Nelson announces his and Winnie's separation.  He thanks her for her immense contribution to the cause. 

1997.  Mrs. Mandela appears before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  It is not a court of law.  Perpetrators can seek amnesty from prosecution, as long at they tell the full truth. 

"South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission found Winnie 'politically and morally accountable for the gross violation of human rights committed by the Mandel United Football Club'.  During the hearings, Winnie apologized to the mother of Stompie Seipei.  Nelson Mandela served five years as President of South Africa.  He appointed Winnie as Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.  Winnie was elected president of the ANC Women's League  -- a post she held for 10 years.  She also became a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee.  Two years after he and Winnie were divorced, Nelson married Graca Machel - the widow of Samora Machel, former President of Mozambique.  Whenever Nelson was hospitalized, Winnie was among the first to attend at his bedside.  While their mother was incarcerated, Zenani and Zindzi were cared for at the Waterford Kamhlaba College in Swaziland, where they remained to complete their schooling.  Winnie never remarried."


Good film and we learn a lot about the wife of Nelson Mandela.  She was a very feisty woman and sometimes maybe too much.  But she also paid a heavy price for being a leader of the anti-apartheid movement:  500 days in prison, with 400 of those days in solitary confinement.  That had to have had a negative effect upon her.  When she came out of prison, she started making big mistakes, sanctioning the use of violence that led to the death of a young boy named Stompie Seipei.  She ruined her chances of ever becoming the first lady of South Africa, and Mandela has to divorce her.  He did, however, always say that she did great things for the movement and personally suffered greatly.  So, we can cut Winnie Mandela some slack for some lack of judgment after being treated so badly by the South African police.    

Jennifer Hudson (as Winnie Mandela) was very good.  Terrence Howard (as Nelson Mandela) was also good and Elias Koteas (as De Vries) seems to always give strong performances.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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