MALAIKA MAHLATSI: Should William Nicol Drive have been renamed?

MALAIKA MAHLATSI: Should a new name have been given to William Nicol Drive?

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William Nicol Drive, one of Johannesburg’s busiest roads in the north, was renamed Winnie Mandela Drive in 2021 after a public consultation process and collaboration between the city and the federal and provincial governments.

On September 26, 2023, which also happened to be the late stalwart’s 87th birthday, the road was officially opened.

A key figure in South Africa’s liberation history is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, also referred to as the” Mother of the Nation.” She graduated from the Jan H. Hofmeyr School of Social Work, the first organization to train Black social workers in South Africa, after being born in 1936 to a royal family in Bizana.

Winnie started working at Baragwanath Hospital, the biggest hospital in Africa and situated in the township of Soweto, in 1956 after becoming the nation’s first Black social worker.

Winnie became an activist while she was still in school, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that she really gained notoriety as one of the anti-apartheid movement’s most well-known figures and voices. She was instrumental in organizing and mobilizing widows of apartheid victims as well as the” Free Nelson Mandela” campaign.

Her actions resulted in numerous arrests and torture incidents by the state’s security forces. Between 1977 and 1985, she was exiled to the town of Brandfort in the then-Orange Free State after receiving orders banning her.

The banning had the unintended consequence of enhancing her voice and the fight against apartheid, despite the fact that it was intended to reduce her activism.

However, Winnie was a different person when she made her way back to Johannesburg after being exiled. She surrounded herself with a group of young men who, in theory, were brought together by the Mandela United Football Club’s( MUFC ) love of sports after becoming violently radicalized and paranoid.

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The MUFC were actually criminals and vigilantes who provided Winnie with protection. The story of Winnie’s house being burned down by Soweto residents is never explained, but it is frequently mentioned in passing.

Daliwonga High School students were playing in a soccer match when MUFC members showed up in 1987. The latter would later exact revenge by gang-raping the girlfriend of a MUFC member after being assaulted by an armed grouping.

Up until Winnie’s house burned down a year later, this vicious cycle of gang rapes of women and men from both sides persisted.

This shows how violent the MUFC, which Winnie frequented, was.

Winnie would also take part in the brutal beating and ultimately brutal murder of Stompie Seipei Moeketsi, a 14-year-old boy who had been held hostage and subjected to severe torture by the MUFC on suspicion of being an askari( a collaborator).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ( TRC ) would disprove Winnie’s false alibi and show that she was involved in the murder of Stompie even though she would maintain her innocence.

Winnie would be charged with the horrifying murder of Dr. Abu Baker Asvat, a doctor who had examined Stompie after the MUFC’s vicious beatings and had insisted that the young boy be taken to the hospital right away because of the seriousness of his injuries, just weeks after his death.

Dr. Asvat’s killer, Cyril Mbatha, testified under oath at the TRC that Winnie had given him the gun to kill him. His convicted co-conspirators also reaffirmed this assertion.

According to legend, Dr. Asvat’s refusal to provide false medical records regarding Stompie is what led to his death. However, it’s possible that we’ll never learn the whole truth about Stompie and Dr. Asvat.

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Those opposed to the renaming of William Nicol Drive contend that this Winnie, who is linked to unfathomable violence, is unworthy of immortalization.

She left a complicated legacy. Without an understanding of the practical circumstances under which she made decisions, it is impossible to comprehend. More than that, though, it’s crucial to comprehend Winnie in the context of the violence that characterized her entire life.

While doing this does not absolve her of her own guilt, it does explain how monsters were produced as a result of the psychological damage caused by the apartheid regime’s violence and persecution.

For me, humanizing Winnie is more crucial than sterilizing her. Those she harmed are ignored when she denies her flaws. Their existence is lost as a result.

However, two things can be simultaneously true. Winnie was a good person who had many flaws, but we can and should remember that.

This raises the issue of whether Winnie should have been William Nicol’s new name. Both yes and no.

I’m a geographer who is passionate about spatial justice and thinks that colonialism and apartheid’s injustices can be perpetuated by monuments and streets. They can also serve as metaphors for healing, epistemic justice, and representation.

The Afrikaner Broederbond, an organization that produced every South African prime minister and state president since the start of the apartheid regime in 1948 and even earlier, was led by William Nicol, a nationalist who belonged to Africa.

A member was Hendrik Verwoerd,” the architect of apartheid.” Nicol was a separatist who supported racial segregation as the foundation for uneven development even as he criticized Bantu education.

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In a democratic South Africa, it would be inappropriate to name the street in honor of the man who left such an illustrious legacy.

However, the African National Congress’ ( ANC ) ongoing monopolization of history poses a serious threat to the spirit of justice and collective memory.

It is problematic that the ANC, which excludes other national liberation movements and, more importantly, activists and revolutionaries within communities, insists on maintaining a narrative in which it was at the forefront of the struggle for freedom.

It gives the impression that only a small number of people fought for South Africa’s freedom when monuments and streets are named after the same ANC stalwarts.

It allows for the erasure of the millions’ contributions, distorting our collective memory of a past that we carry with us.

Researching the numerous faceless and nameless individuals who made significant contributions to our struggle in a variety of ways must be funded.

Regardless of political affiliation, all those who served, suffered, and sacrificed must be included in the renaming process if it is to seek spatial justice.

Recognition must not be based on proximity to the ruling party. If so, new types of epistemic injustice and violence are produced as a result of an effort to address historical injustices.

At the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation, Malaika conducts research and is a geographer. She holds a PhD. German University of Bayreuth D. candidate.



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