Why the Blacks and the Whites plotted against Winnie Mandela-Pascale Lamche
Patriarchy operates all over the world,” says Lamche, who won a Sundance directing award for her treatment of Winnie in the film. Photo Getty images
London, Nov. 13, 2017 (AltAfrika)-For decades, the prevailing narratives about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was that of a tainted and complicated soul in spite of many years of struggle against apartheid. While Nelson Mandela, her soul mate was languishing in jail and others driven to exile, Winnie kept the flame of the struggle alive and burning.
Unfortunately, while the collapse of apartheid elevated Mandela to sainthood, Winnie remained the “sinner”. Reason-many allegations of cruelty and fraud while plotting against the dreaded apartheid regime which till date was never held accountable for the numerous (documented) atrocities against the black South Africans.
Now, a new narrative about” Winnie the victim” is been told. An 84 minute documentary “WINNIE” detailing a new perspective to the old order . The documentary by the award winning British filmmaker/Writer Pascale Lamche tells a different story. The tale of a state sponsored conspiracy against an uncompromising activist whose main offence was her gender.“But what is really astounding in South Africa is that on both sides of the apartheid divide – with the white Afrikaner nationalists and the black nationalists – they agreed on what a woman should be, which is to be a wife and stay at home and toe the line. And of course Winnie never toed the line: she was volatile and uncontrollable, and that was punished.”
In an exclusive interview with Olabisi Adesina of Alternativeafrika, Pascale Lamche revealed the motivation and struggle she encountered during the making of the documentary.
Olabisi: What motivated the making of a documentary on Winnie Mandela.
Pascale: It was the idea of my Life Partner, who has sadly passed on, to do such documentary but it was clear to him at least that it will not be possible to even approach making such a film to until Nelson Mandela had finally died which people were anticipating obviously for some time and after a period of mourning for Winne Mandela. And he was very, very insistent when that happened that this film really needed to be made, so that’s when we made the approach together .Peter Makurube, that was his name, knew Zindzi Mandela (Winne and Nelson Mandela’s Daughter) not fantastically well, but knew her, through his various contacts . We were able to finally to meet, I mean Peter spoke with Zindzi . What was in the balance and what was said to me, was that he felt that I was being , a woman an outsider but an insider in terms of where my heart laid , that I have the kind of needed internal and external look , gaze if you like. In his view , the film needed to be made, so he made contact with Zindzi and she eventually agreed to meet me and Peter as well . We met her and the importance was that she needed to feel me , if you see what I mean and have a sense of whether she can trust me enough to introduce me to her mother . We sat in her garden , round the fire till 4.0’clock in the morning , talking and Peter was right , there were echoes in my life that reverberated with her and she thought and she eventually decided to trust me enough to introduce me to her mother , and that’s was how the whole process began.
Olabisi: Earlier on, you said that the filming of the documentary will not go ahead, except Nelson Mandela , passes on. Why will that be?
Pascale: I don’t know , one will have to ask Peter really who sadly is no longer with us. He just felt that the way South Africa is such that a young country , the struggle against apartheid was such a vicious one , an enormous and momentous historical process, that to make a film will inevitably , if made well, change the frame on the story a little bit, it will be too early to do it any sooner and people will refuse to speak more openly and that opening up and that speaking which involved a critical gaze with empathy and compassion and commitment , that will take a little bit of time before that became possible.
Olabisi: We know about some of the allegations against Winnie Mandela and inspite of these , the documentary was filmed , didn’t this cause a bad reaction ?
Pascale: Well , there were a lot of opposition when I was trying to raise interest and a little bit of finance for the film. There were some resistance and opposition, also difficulty but it wasn’t enough to make the film impossible and so I persevered and carried on. The whole point is that the film is an open film and not a closed film ,it’s one that sort to look at history again and from a slightly different perspective. I think what I was interested in particularly was to take Winnie seriously as a Military Commander in Umkhonto we Sizwe which wasn’t a role that anybody had considered sufficiently before. And I was also interested in sort of double standards that seemed to apply to Political leadership and Military leadership when one was talking about a Woman now, a Woman leader specifically in an African context but obviously it’s not reserved only to patriarchy and those structures don’t exist only there but there were statistics about the story that I was interested to explore.
Olabisi: This documentary is a very powerful one, about a Woman who puts in everything , her all into making sure that what was to be achieved for South Africa, did really become real. And as you said before that, finance was difficult to get , it shows that a lot of real live events had been collated in making the film a reality . How easy or difficult was it for you to get the footage, the challenges or setbacks that you and the production team had to go through in putting it all together.
Pascal: There were many , many challenges . Some of the challenges were personal in that there were two tragedies during the making of this film . One was the death of my main collaborator, Peter Makurube. Second was the death in a car accident en route to the filming , of Ann-Marie Bezdrob who was Winnie’s Biographer. These were two massive tragedies, difficult to comprehend because that’s where real life intersected, not only with the making of the film but also it reflected something about the calamity state of contemporary South Africa, because both of my collaborators died as a consequence of not having private health care. In a way the film is a critique of these sort of things that one would have hoped exist in South Africa today, which is affordable and good healthcare , free education that what the Students have been talking about ,struggling. for a good couple of years now. So that was one challenge. The other challenge was of course archives . Archives, cost a great deal of money. Bizarrely , The SABC, South African Broadcasting Corporation for example, decided to charge such a fortune, for archives which many people consider should be, almost in the public domain and now becomes extremely difficult to make film about the struggle . If you can’t afford to show, any of the images, the news images, that were recorded at that time. So the challenge of finding the money and clear the rights for archives was enormous . I had a very good and friendly contact , who provided me with a lot of material , that I would have otherwise have a lot of difficulty in finding, so that was great but took a long time to get to that point. And the last challenge, the most specific challenge I suppose was in the beginning , right in the beginning when I was pitching it in Europe really , and there was an enormous amount of scepticism, not only from some Broadcasters who clearly didn’t want a reappraisal of Winnie’s contribution and her role within the entire story of the liberation of South Africa but also many people who many people who I encountered. (Cutting in )
Why do you think so , why would they do that
Pascale: I think , you see in the film actually, If I had, had, eight and a half hours to make a film, like the documentary that was made , not too long ago on OJ Simpson, which could go to every beat of the story . Unfortunately for me I could never have raised that sort of money or committed interest, but I could have made an eight hour film on Winnie Mandela and all the stories and all the allegations against her etc. So I had to distil that first in to a ninety seven minute film which is the proper Director’s cut of the film and now an eighty four minute , which is the television , American television cut down version which is probably the version that everybody is getting to see now. But so why this resistance , was your question. The resistance I think comes from the fact that , as you see towards the end of my film, a BBC documentary was made, that focused around a book, and focused around the testimony of someone called Kateza Kebukulu and you know it became an inside story , which was a strand on the BBC, clearly that had a lot to do along with the publication of the book that went with it plus another book that was written by an English Journalist, which I found on reading , highly questionable, if you read it against the grain, you realise this Woman was given all kinds of information by the apartheid police state. There seemed to be an agenda at play, it seemed very evident to me when I read both those books and saw the documentary . So those two books and the BBC documentary seemed to have settled the score and nobody wanted to open it up again, and it really, really shocked me and I was challenged by one British Broadcaster, and I won’t mention who, who was very cross with me for saying in my pitches that I was taking an open view and in the process of the making of the film that I was trying to uncover the truth and going beyond the Media, when it seem she had been demonised , which seemed quite an interesting project, to scratch beneath the surface and try and get to something more true. But the resistance , was one in which, I don’t know where it came from , I think it came from a desire to maintain this nice comfortable duality, between the saintly Nelson and the demonic Winnie. And of course Winne was associated with Umkhonto we Sizwe the Military Wing of the African National Congress (ANC) , and was also associated with a more socialist leaning critique of not only of politics but also that very whole critical process of transition. I think there were people who don’t want that debate to open up potentially on a world stage again . They wanted to let sleeping dogs lie and a certain view of South African history , as this extraordinary miracle transformation to endure however flawed, clearly was , as we can see in the problems that South Africa is facing today , the most unequal country, possibly in the World today, I mean it’s crazy
Olabisi: How fair , do you think all of is on Winnie, because clearly it’s about of betrayal and trust, especially when people refuse to come out and open up about the truth about something that happened.
Pascale: How fair is that ? well it patently isn’t fair . It’s the job of documentary film making , when you are tackling historical subjects that are also deeply political and that are invariably and inevitably inform our understanding of the situation , social , political and economic and to some degree psychological , it seems odd to me to say that one shouldn’t constantly reappraise the past in other inform the future. I think that’s our job as documentary film makers.
Olabisi: Some of the themes that have come out of this film have to do with trust , betrayal, power, motivation and much more . We can see that for anyone who watches this documentary , will observe that some people do come out to day the truth , in a way confess. If Winnie sits back and watches this film , do you think she will ever have the heart to forgive?
Pascale: Well, I don’t know . We had a premiere in Johannesburg and it was an extraordinary event and people were incredibly moved by it and wept. There was a Government Minister in the audience and the next day , the newspapers had banner headlines, saying the film changed history, meaning it had changed perspective on history. So I think Winnie feels to a certain degree an opening for a sense of vindication. When I first meant her she said ” history will vindicate me”. I was sceptical of that , well I thought that if books aren’t written , if film aren’t made, history won’t necessarily vindicate you other than that. What you have criticised ,your voice of critique on South Africa today will be vindicated, whether your reputation and the way it was phenomenally manipulated will be resurrected and that form of vindication is questionable. Now when you ask me if Winnie herself feels she can forgive, I mean in the film itself she describes , how she finds it impossible in her heart to forgive , for example Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the sort of process that she was dragged through at the Transparent Reconciliation Commission (TRC ). Does she forgive Murphy Morobe, who you see in the film , who makes the statement to say that, The Mass Democratic Movement wishes to distance itself from Winnie Mandela. I don’t know if , she would forgive him . Would she forgive Sidney Mufamadi, the Minister, who launched the investigation to try and put together evidence and finally charge Winnie with murder as it’s described in the film, would she forgive him? I don’t know. I know she has asked me , if they have reacted to the film, she’s very interested to know , they have not, there’s been no response from any of those quarters . I think she now sits with a certain form of amusement and waits to see what the impact is of this film. Right now the film is travelling all over the world , it is having an enormous effect and no doubt will continue to .We wait and see whether , when , where and how the film will be properly released in South Africa and that of course is the country that mostly deals directly with this film and I know that there’s an enormous amount of enthusiasm to see it and spread it and discuss it and I depend on my South African producers to sort that out.
Olabisi: How will you describe Winnie as the Military Commander
Pascale: There is a part in the film where Dali MPofu describes, explains in his view that she was the highest military commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Military wing of the ANC inside the country. She was receiving her orders from Oliver Tambo who was in Lusaka and in exile in Britain , he was travelling around, as President of the ANC in exile . And from Chris Hani , who you see in the film is assassinated , who was also a high commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Winnie is in the inside of the of the country , she’s obviously in exile up in the Orange Free State (one of the four traditional provinces of South Africa) from 1976 – 1985 , when she finally forces her way back to Soweto. Unfortunately in this shorter version of the film you don’t see those sequences . I had to cut down the film, so it’s less clear in the shorter eighty four minute version how she gets back to Soweto. But she forces her herself back to Soweto despite still being banned, she un bans herself so to speak. So when she is back in Soweto , she is running things from a base in Soweto and she’s still an underground leader of of Umkhonto we Sizwe and so a number of ,sort of guerrilla operations continue under her command and auspices.
Olabisi: What inspiration can today’s Woman draw from this documentary on Winnie Mandela.
Pascale: The core of the film is a message her daughter Zindzi articulates so powerfully that the future of South Africa would have been better guaranteed , had Winnie and Nelson stay together.Had their political dialogue and personal dialogue continued and had she not being neutralised as a political leader and as his wife. The lessons for Women today are that , power structures have essentially been run by patriarchal ideologies and structures for hundreds of years and it’s very difficult and still is very difficult for Women to carve out positions of political leadership. The sort of patronage , sort of relationships that allow political leadership to solidify and remain are very difficult for women to secure . Women are still very much , if we are talking about politics, find it hard to build, be in and keep those positions of power , they are very restrained , very muted, It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t continue. And it’s still exceptionally easy to bring down a Woman , based on criticising the things that are to do with her personal life, her appearance , her personal relationship etc .And in this way things move massively in favour of Men continuing to determine much of what goes on in the world . So obviously there is hope but it’s a massive struggle and continues to be . For those women or people who think that feminism is not an issue , of any relevance anymore or something to do with the old days, of the 1970’s, I ‘d say wake up, there’s is a whole new generation of Young Feminists redefining what that means and that’s important because it’s a daily struggle to think, to articulate and to resist all those structures that essentially keep Women in a subsidiary role.
Olabisi: Pascale , I’ll like to thank you on behalf of Alternative Afrika for talking to us . And also for very powerful documentary , we hope that lessons can be drawn from this film on Winnie Mandela, who is a symbol of determination and inspiration.
Pascale : Thank you so much, it’s been great talking to you .
The documentary”Winnie”which won Best Director World Cinema,at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was also on display at The Royal African Society’s Annual Film Festival, FILM AFRICA 2017.