Genre – Nonfiction
Pages – 264
Published – 2013
Winifred Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela.
If I could describe her in a few words; Fearless. Tenacious. Strong. Committed. Unapologetic.
491 Days is the number of days Winnie Mandela spent in detention. This book is an account of Winnie’s experience in and out of jail, on the charge of “terrorism” by the South African apartheid government. It reads like a personal journal where she notes the ill treatment rendered to her and other freedom fighters.
“As long as I live I shall never forget the nightmares I have suffered as a result of the daily prisoners’ piercing screams as the brutal corporate punishment is inflicted on them”. Page 10.
In the first part of the book, Winnie describes how she was arrested, the dilapidated jail cell, her deteriorating health and deliberate effort by the apartheid police to frustrate and torture her time and time again. She showed her passion for her country and people not backing down despite all she faced. Part two of the book is letters between Winnie, Nelson, their attorney and family members. Most of the letters were from Mandela, slightly putting me off as it felt the book became about him. Nonetheless, they gave more context to the whole picture. I loved how Nelson Mandela appreciated Winnie’s dedication, becoming the face of the struggle while he was in jail.
“I feel very humble indeed when I compare my own insignificant efforts with the heavy sacrifices she is making” Page 144.
491 Days is an enlightening account of 2 decades in Winnie’s life. It is an important book because the role of women in the fight for liberation is often ignored. I watched a documentary about her life on YouTube to complement my reading and I have deeper appreciation of Winnie and her fight. I now understand why South Africans celebrated her after her passing, especially the women with the hashtags #AllBlackwithadoek and #Shedidntdieshemultipled. Her Xhosa name, Nomzamo means “the one who preserves”. She indeed preserved while showing strength of character. More people need to read Winnie’s story to appreciate the significant role she played in South Africa’s history.
“When Tata was arrested on 5 August 1962, I decided, ‘I will fight them to the last drop of my blood. I am going to fight them and I am not going to let them break me. I will never let them break me”. Page 237