When Hope Whispers: My Personal Perspective


I am reading this compelling autobiography by Zoleka Mandela. It is easy to read, written in a frank, conversational style. However, that serves to make the story even more riveting. Part 1 takes you through a brutally honest and raw account of abuse and addiction, the death of her daughter and her recovery. Part 2 takes you through the journey of her cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. In her words, we all have our crosses to bear. Hers, in my opinion is a heavy one. My Mum always says that if our troubles were crosses, put in a pile and we were asked to choose, we would go for the smallest one, only to find that it was the one we had from the beginning. Fortunately, God gives the greatest battles to his bravest warriors.

I write this not as a professional critic, but as a woman on a journey to healing and finding her life purpose. If I sound a little star-struck, you’ll forgive me. I believe that this is one of those stories that will change the world. As I engage with her story, with its various themes, I get fresh insight into the goodness and greatness of God, who sometimes allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions but is ultimately a loving God who longs to redeem, heal and help us to live a wholesome life of abundance.
When Grandma’s a Heroine and Grandpa’s an Icon

Nelson and Winnie Mandela on their wedding day. Picture courtesy of Pinterest

In part one, Zoleka takes us back to her childhood. As the child of members of Umkhonto WeSizwe, the military wing of the ANC, the struggle against apartheid was up close and personal. Unfortunately, it came with an abnormal family life: no parents to maintain a home with a normal routine of being taken to school, bath time, television, homework, supper and bedtime stories. Her mother, Zindziswa, grandmother, Winne and her aunt Zenani did the best that they could under the circumstances. South Africa before 1994 was the one of the hardest places to live as a black person and especially for a woman and an activist. 

Many people criticize Winnie: for being militant; for her role in the murder of Stompie Seipei; for her affair with Dali Mpofu. She was no saint, but through the eyes of her grand-daughter you see the other side of her, staunchly loyal, loving and supportive. This is a side that the public never knew, seeing only a battle-hardened veteran, who in the opinion of many had no business being front and centre of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Why am I dwelling on Winnie’s story? Well, that is where Zoleka’s story really begins. Her childhood would have been radically different, had Winnie chosen a less radical path of activism and had the opportunity to raise her children. Zenani and Zindzi had to read the papers whenever schools closed, to check whether their mother had been arrested, because she wasn’t at home when they came back for school holidays. Imagine not seeing your mother for the whole school term, only to find that she is not at home during the holiday, while your father is serving a lifelong prison sentence. I visited the women’s section of the prison complex at Constitution Hill this year, where Winnie Mandela was held for some time. I had chills walking in that place. I can only imagine the pain and anguish, especially of solitary confinement. It must have been hell for Winnie, constantly banned, jailed, unable to raise her children.

As a great admirer of Winnie, I observed all this at a young age. I am an activist and an outspoken person, who hates injustice. However when things took a turn for the worse in the country of my birth, I had a choice, join the opposition as an activist and disappear or die in jail or go into exile to raise my children. After following Winnie and her daughters’ story, I chose the latter. The welfare and wellbeing of my children took priority. Some would say it was a cowardly choice, but seeing how Zindzi, Zenani and now Zoleka struggled with the absence of their mother, I realise that it was the right thing to do. As a mother, I do not regret that choice.
Not Easily Broken

Zindziswa Mandela, Zoleka’s mother. Picture courtesy of Pinterest. 

Zindzi was not equipped for motherhood. With the pressure to live up to the family legacy of involvement in the struggle, her military training and her bigger priority of liberation, she couldn’t give Zoleka the motherly love that she needed at a young age. Zindzi herself did not have normal childhood, so she could hardly be expected to give her daughter something she herself did not have. The absence and subsequent marriage of Zoleka’s father Oupa Seakamela didn’t help matters. To quote Tyler Perry, both Zindzi and Oupa were broken children raising a broken child. Like Winnie, they deserve empathy in my opinion, not judgment.

Sisters, Zindzi and Zenani Mandela with US President Barack Obama. Picture courtesy of Pinterest

Zoleka’s childhood seems like a generally happy one, with her aunt and a large extended family. As ANC royalty, particularly after independence, she seemed to live a charmed life, feted by and photographed with celebrities. However it was marred by the physical and sexual abuse. Her descent into addiction was a natural one. All addictions are deeply rooted in trauma, emotional and physical pain. You cannot recover from addiction, without dealing with the pain. It is hard work, but must be done in order to heal. 

Zoleka has an addictive personality. Science has proven that addicts’ brains are wired differently. Some people can have a drink today and not have another drink for weeks. Others take a sip of alcohol and after that need a drink every day just to feel normal. For this reason, fruit juice is served at Holy Communion in the Methodist church, because John Wesley preached in pubs and the church recognises that a sip of altar wine would trigger the addiction again. When you recover from addiction, you are not cured, you have to make the decision daily to stay clean, and not indulge. When Zoleka returned from rehab, she left her mother’s house because they drank alcohol daily and they were not willing to change their lifestyle to support her. This incident, for me, reinforces the importance of supporting a loved one who is in recovery from addiction.

However turbulent Zindzi and Zoleka’s relationship was, the bond of motherhood is not easily broken.  Zoleka met and fell in love with a series of men in her teens with who. She would smoke, drink and take drugs. Sex was her other addiction. She went to Botswana to meet up with her boyfriend and she relates how her mother had her arrested at the border on her way back. In a recent Instagram post, she acknowledges how her mother constantly tried to intervene and protect her, despite Zoleka’s being difficult and abusive towards her. The important lesson here is that love triumphs over all. At some point, both mother and daughter have managed to find each other again. In my experience, you only really understand your mother when you have your own children. You may not agree with her choices or actions, but you can empathise.
Why we need to fight sexual abuse of women and children. 

Zoleka’s promiscuity was rooted in her experiencing sexual abuse at an early age. Most children who are sexually abused lack self worth and have low self-esteem. They become promiscuous to feel loved, in whatever twisted manner, to numb the pain of the abuse. Oprah’s story is a classic example. This is why we need to fight the scourge of sexual abuse and rape of women and children. The effects on a person’s mind, body and spirit lead to numerous problems with ripple effects in their families and the society at large. With the movement now focusing on men, it is important to reach boys when they are still young and teach them values of strength, courage, respect and protection of the vulnerable. As Frederick Douglas put it, it is easier to build strong boys than to repair broken men. Broken and hurting men hurt women, children and other men, and the effects of violence and abuse continue. Had Zoleka not encountered such men in her family, she would most likely have a different story to tell.

Our Weapons Are Not Carnal

Zoleka writes about hallucinating while she was high, seeing men in dark coats in the house and being instructed to burn herself to death. Fortunately her brother saw the smoke coming from her room and rescued her. Her eyes rolled back in her head, she was unresponsive, signs of being demonized. Psychoactive drugs open a door in your consciousness to the spiritual world, enabling demons to harass and possess you. These demons escalate addictions and promote risky deviant and criminal behavior that harm the self and others. Only the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ can set you free.

I once had the opportunity of participating in a deliverance session at church. Ours is mainstream, bible-believing Protestant church. No tricks, no stunts or theatrics. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring healing and wholeness to broken people. A lady  who was demon-possessed was brought to the church. She was afraid for her young daughter and wanted to be released from the demonic strongholds in order to protect her. I lost count of the number of demons that were cast out out of her that night. Her story was one of incest, bearing two children as a result, alcoholism, drugs, promiscuity, a stint in jail, attempted murder in jail. She felt guilty about giving up her children, had low self-esteem and had drifted through life in relationships with men that were as broken as she was. Clearly the sexual abuse was the root, her problems snowballed from there as she drank, took drugs and indulged in more sex to dull the pain. The criminal behavior was how she supported her drug and drinking habits. When we started praying, the demons in her resisted. She spoke in strange different voices, men’s voices. She wanted to run off into the night. It took seven of us women to hold her down, while the deliverance session conducted by the elders of the church in the presence of our resident minister. The session lasted for almost two hours. We prayed, sang, recited bible verses and cast out the demons in the name of Jesus.  Eventually she was free.  The crazed look was gone. She spoke in her own voice. She walked out of that church a different person from when she came in.

We have to fight the scourge of drugs and keep them from stealing the hope, the future and the lives of our youth.

Zoleka Mandela and Thierry Bashala. Pictures courtesy of Instagram and Pinterest.

I have to commend Zoleka’s current partner, Thierry Bashala, a man of unusual courage and fortitude. Theirs is a relationship that breaks all the rules. Firstly he is three years younger than her. How many times do our families discourage a man from dating or marrying a woman who is the same age or older than him? How many men deliberately chase younger women to feel at an advantage, because they cannot handle a woman their own age? Secondly, he loves her and accepts her for who she is, despite her flawed upbringing, poor choices and colourful sexual history. Many men man expect to marry a virgin but insists on having sex with just about every woman they date. Guys it’s time to ditch the double-standard. 

It’s sad how many men used and abused Zoleka, leaving her in some cases, literally holding the baby?  In contrast Thierry is a praying man, a devoted husband, father and step-father and she is happier than ever. If you don’t believe me, check out her Instagram posts. This man has been there through the harrowing ordeal of cancer treatments. We are talking about sixteen sessions of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, saline implants that need draining, hair loss, pigmentation and weight gain. He drove her to the hospital, ran the foundation, cooked supper and looked after Zwelami through it all. That was first time. Then again when the cancer returned, a second time. Then there was the ‘just in case’ fertility treatments, because they wanted a child in future and there would be no guarantees after the cancer treatment. These required her to have hormone injections at home, all done by him. That is the kind of strength and perseverance that any woman would want from a man, Even those of us who are ‘liberated’.

Men complain that women don’t submit to them. A woman will submit to a man who is worthy. A man who provides for her, supports her dreams and makes her his highest priority. Why should a woman submit to a man who is not her hero and cannot step up when required to.  This is the kind of love story that should give anyone hope that no matter how bad you think things are; that no matter how dark and troubled your past is, there is a someone out there who will genuinely love you in spite of it. For men, that is a woman you’ll die for, for women, that is a man you would follow to the ends of the earth, barefoot, in your lingerie.

Zoleka’s story is a heroic one, of courage, optimism and triumph over adversity. Faith, hope and love, the greatest of all being love. God’s love for her, her love for her family, especially her children and above all self-love, because you cannot give others what you yourself don’t have. I recommend that you read the book, now in its fourth reprint. You can order a copy from Jacana Media or from  I hope you find her story as inspiring as I have. 


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