WINNIE MANDELA by Nancy Harrison


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A too personal, admiring and simplistic account of the life of Winnie Mandela, a woman whose extraordinary courage and determination make her worthy of a much more serious biography. Born in an isolated village in the Transkei, Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela became the first black social worker in South Africa. Then, through her marriage to Nelson Mandela, the now-imprisoned leader of the African National Congress, she became prominent in the fight against apartheid. Her perseverance and fortitude have earned her the appellation ""Mother of the Nation,"" as well as constant harassment and abuse from the police, banishment by the government, and forced separation from her husband for 23 years of their 26 years of marriage. Harrison's biography does not do justice to her subject. Although Harrison states that her intention is only to leu Winnie's ""personal story,"" it is hard to justify the book's fawning and romanticized picture of that life. To capture the true meaning of Mrs. Mandela's accomplishment, we need a fuller picture of the political environment within which she has been forced to struggle; we need facts and figures on the reality of being black in South Africa. Instead, we are told what a good cook Winnie is, how it was love at first sight when she and Nelson met, that they quarreled when he tried to teach her how to drive. The book is not without its virtues, however. By concentrating so completely on her subject's personal life, Harrison manages to create an evocative picture of what daily life under apartheid is like for someone committed to its overthrow. The horror of police searches, the constant vigil necessary to avoid exposure, the strain put on the family all combine to attest to Winnie Mandela's courage and commitment. The book, at times, seems intended for younger readers, and on this level it makes an appealing introduction to a remarkable woman. But it leaves the serious reader longing for a more complex portrait of this heroic personality, and the land in which she toils.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Braziller