Image caption: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in New York City, during a visit with her husband, Nelson Mandela (20 June 1990)

Pause: The day Winnie Madikizela-Mandela came to visit me.

“She is here! It’s her, and she is sitting waiting for you in our board room!” said my PA, barely able to contain herself with excitement.

“Who?!” I asked.

“She told me not to tell you, because it’s a surprise.”

So I followed her, not knowing who she was talking about.

“My boy! My son!” she shouted gleefully as she rushed from her seat, and with those words she enveloped me with the huge hug of an African mother!

She was bubbling with joy as she greeted me.

I can still see her now, in this amazing headwear that only she could wear with such abandoned elegance.

It was Winnie Mandela!

We had never actually met, but it didn’t seem like that. It was as though I had known her all my life! Which in a way was true.

As I was growing up in Zambia (amongst the exile communities from Zimbabwe and South Africa) Winnie Mandela’s life and travails were daily fare for us. We may not have had social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but we all “followed” her like any celebrity today.

__She was our celebrity, our hero, our symbol of defiance with courage and dignity.

My mother had two older sisters (both now late) and their own husbands were in political detention in the then Rhodesia. One served 11 years, whilst the other collectively did more than 20 years. The pain in the lives of those two women was like the life of Winnie Mandela without the fame. And even though my mother never met Winnie Mandela, to her she was the public face of her struggling sisters.

In those days, when pictures of the beautiful Jackie Kennedy would appear in magazines, my mother and her friends would just scoff and say, “She is not as beautiful as Winnie Mandela!”

Now she was in my office, looking like she had walked off a movie set!

That evening I called my mother.

“Guess who came to my office, Mama… Winnie Mandela!”

“Shuwa! Shuwa!”

“Shuwa, Mama!”

“Ah!Ah!” she exclaimed. “So how was she dressed?”

“Like a queen Mama! Even Jackie Kennedy could not dress like that!”

“Then you have met my Winnie!”

Winnie Mandela had heard that I was being persecuted back home in Zimbabwe, and wanted to make me welcome in South Africa. She told me she would fight for me “if Thabo Mbeki tries to send you back to Mugabe”!

I assured her I didn’t think it would come to that. We then chatted over a cup of tea about charity work, and she told me about her non-political interests.

Then she was gone like a fragrant gust of wind. I was not sure what to make of it, but I appreciated it. That was nearly 17 years ago.

I did not see her again, except at occasional public events, but if she spotted me, she would always come over and ask how I was doing. I appreciated it.

Like everyone else, I have read a few things about her, both good, bad and sometimes also disappointing. I will leave that all to the great Judge Himself now.

Today I thought to just share this little memory to celebrate her life.

That day when she came to visit me at my office, is my own memory of her captured and stored forever.

My deepest condolences to her family, and the peoples of Africa who saw her as a mother in the struggle for Africa’s dignity.

May God strengthen you with peace.

Strive Masiyiwa


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About Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet, a diversified global telecommunications group with operations and investments in over 15 countries. His business interests also include renewable energy, financial services, media and hospitality. Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including Unilever, Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy, Morehouse College, Hilton Foundation's Humanitarian Prize Jury and the Kenjin-Tatsujin International Advisory Council. He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. Masiyiwa took over the Chairmanship of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from Kofi Annan. He is also Chair of the Micronutrient Initiative, a global organization focused on ending child hunger and improving nutrition. In 2012, Masiyiwa was invited by President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa. In 2014, Masiyiwa was selected to Fortune Magazine’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders”. As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized. Masiyiwa and his wife finance the Higher Life Foundation, which provides scholarships to over 42,000 African orphans. In 2015, he was the recipient of the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award and was presented with a UN Foundation Global Leadership Award for the work of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust, which he chairs and helped establish to fund the deployment of African healthcare workers to combat the outbreak in West Africa.

8 thoughts on “Pause: The day Winnie Madikizela-Mandela came to visit me.

  1. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    There is something in my story about Mama Winnie Mandela’s visit to my office that day that I would like you to consider adopting as a life principle:

    # Someone told her there was this young Zimbabwean businessman who was being persecuted. I was not famous at the time.
    My family was being terrorized on South African soil by security agents of another country.
    She had no idea who I was, BUT she believed it was wrong!

    She was not the only one who saw the attacks against me in Zimbabwe and SA media. The difference is always who will stand up without fear?

    # When you see something wrong being done, or you read something in the newspaper that is an injustice or offends your sense of fairness and justice, think of what she did:
    # She made an effort to find out more about me!
    # She found out where to find me!
    # She came to see me, someone she did not know!

    This blew me away!

    I have often wondered who else out there that she quietly visited like that.

    You don’t have to be big and famous to show solidarity or to show empathy when others are facing difficulty. They don’t have to be your family. This is the underlying doctrine in the story of the Good Samaritan.
    Thousands of ordinary people wrote me notes, and left them under my door. Others just posted little tracts of scripture. When I went to Church ordinary people would simply come and lean over to say they were praying. All these things matter, and we must all do them for others.

  2. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    #A spiritual principle:
    The story of the calamities that befell a man called Job is so famous that people who don’t believe in God, even quote it.
    For those of us who are believers, there is something we often miss about the condition God placed on Job before answering his pleas for help, and it is contained in this verse:

    Job 42:10
    After Job had prayed for his three friends, the Lord made Job twice as rich as he had been before.

    God first directed Job, to turn his attention away from his own plight, and respond to the needs of others.

    You are not a mature believer until you can spend time in prayer, which does not include yourself.
    Often answers to our deepest prayer desires happen only after we turn attention away from ourselves.

    Let’s remember Leah Sharibu, our little heroine from Nigeria. We must pray without ceasing until she and others held in captivity are released.

  3. Strive Masiyiwa Post author

    Pyemwa Samantha writes,

    Thank you for this Sir, especially for our Leah Sharibu

    My reply,
    Leah Sharibu is only 15 years old. The same age as my youngest daughter.
    In my heart she has become like my own daughter. Now when I pray for my own daughters I include her name.

    Nigeria should consider building special schools in the South so young girls like those who were abducted can go to school in safety.
    Now this does not need to wait for governments, even though it would be good for state governments in particular to do something.
    Christians and Muslims can join hands and build these schools.
    If someone has the leadership for this challenge, count me in to also stand with you.
    And if as I suspect there are people working on this, I and our friends around the world would like to join you, so post about it.
    #TheAfricanGirlChild must all go to school!

  4. Ambrose Rakgoadi

    So inspired about the selfless duty you are called to do more especially on the
    on the avenue of putting others first with regard to their plight and difficult situations they happen to find themselves in

  5. Violet Phiri

    Phenomenal woman. Phenomenal because of her humility. Her connection to the grassroots till the end!


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