By Adejoh Idoko Momoh.
I started out this month watching Selma: ‘the Martin Luther Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights’ movie and I found it fitting that I write about lessons from it. This and the fact that it is women’s history month informs the fact that this piece is about women.
Without Winnie Mandela there will be no Nelson Mandela, without Coretta Scott King there will be no Martin Luther King, at least not to the extent we know both men. In Mandela’s case, he probably would have stayed in prison long enough and returned to meet an uninspired population: people who were content with the status quo and thought it was too difficult, violent even to change it. But no, Winnie kept them inspired, held forte for him.
Nelson Mandela had his shortcomings: he smoked, there were allegations he cheated on his wife, according to most people including Winnie he came out of jail half the man who went in, he accepted a soft landing instead of asking hard for his demands and then he came out and divorced the very same wife who kept his vision alive when he couldn’t do that himself.
This piece does not serve to taint the memory of this man, who quite easily is Africa’s most progressive leader, but this piece serves to celebrate the often unsung heroes who come into our lives and complement our weaknesses, those who help us see life in perspective and encourage us when we choose to carry on in our fights.
You’ve ever heard the saying ‘behind every great man is a great woman’? This saying mostly is true and for Nelson Mandela, Winnie was that woman. And only when you begin to acknowledge her many roles in South Africa’s anti apartheid struggle will you begin to understand how movements are built. How they succeed, how they never happen in isolation: by one man or woman’s efforts. They always occur in the context of community and family, and for Mandela, that community was led and nurtured by his wife.
Surely, she made a few misguided decisions largely surrounding the Mandela United football club and allegations of infidelity, even as I do not aim to justify these things they contributed immensely to keeping her alive. She could have taken the easy route; simply leave him as he went to jail or give up the struggle as she faced persecution, torture, exile and multiple death attempts. She could have remarried just as soon as he was taken away but she didn’t, she raised his two daughters herself on very lean resources, largely alone and without complaints.
Perhaps there should be a day in her honor; a day when we give thanks to all the supportive women who keep our dreams alive. A day when we say achievements most times are about the person behind the person. The person who encourages the achiever, that person for Nelson Mandela was Winnie, and for Martin Luther, Coretta.
Please feel free to share, leave comments on how your dreams have been encouraged by someone else, leave stories celebrating the wonderful women who make your world what it is. Adejoh Momoh (firstname.lastname@example.org) can be followed on twitter @adejoh