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Winnie Mandela is an ancestor now. We send our respect and our blessings.

During the struggle for change in South Africa, and especially the period after Nelson Mandela and other members of the ANC were imprisoned, Winnie was a revolutionary force in South Africa. I was a college student and poet. South Africa and the struggle had an enormous effect upon my life, and upon my professional path.

Back then, I became involved in the stateside struggle by students for divestment and sanctions. My role was tiny. I was just someone who came to rallies, who studied and debated the issue, who attended meetings, and who had a chance to meet many who were more deeply involved in the revolutionary struggle against apartheid.

I am moved by Sister Winnie’s death. I just watched the NETFLIX film about her life and work. It brought back great memories of an African woman in the vanguard of the struggle. Here is an excerpt from Gwendolyn Brooks’ famous poem about Winnie Mandela from 1987. This feels like the best way to pay tribute to her today:

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Winnie Mandela, she
the non-fiction statement, the flight into resolving fiction,

vivid over the landscape, a sumptuous sun
for our warming, ointment at the gap of our wounding,

would like to be a little girl again

Skipping down a country road, singing.

Or a young woman, flirting,
no cares beyond curl-braids and paint
and effecting no change, no swerve, no jangle.

But Winnie Mandela, she,
the She of our vision, the Code,
the articulate rehearsal, the founding mother, shall

direct our choir of makers and wide music.

Think of plants and beautiful weeds in the Wilderness. They can’t do a thing about it (they are told)
when trash is dumped at their roots.
Have no doubt they’re indignant and daunted.

It is not what they wanted.

Winnie Mandela, she
is there to be vivid: there
to assemble, to conduct the old magic,
the frightened beauty, the trapped wild loveliness, the

crippled reach,
interrupted order, the stalled clarity.

Listen, my Sisters, Brothers, all ye that dance on the brink of Blackness,

never falling in:
your vision your Code your Winnie is woman grown…

(Gwendolyn Brooks — 1987, courtesy Poetry Magazine)

Numbers runner. Cigar smoker.

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