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Fight For Freedom Leaves Ugly Chapters

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Nelson And Winnie Mandela

Nelson Mandela and wife, Winnie, walking hand in hand, raise clenched fists upon his release from Victor prison in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 11, 1990. (Associated Press / February 11, 1990)

Triumphantly they passed beneath the confetti-filled sky as a jubilant crowd lined the streets.

Then, in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

But my camera captured them: Nelson and Winnie Mandela. June 1990. New York City.

He was just five months removed from 27 years in prison; she, long recognized as "the mother of the nation."

They were riding in what became called the Mandelamobile. They were looking out at the crowd, each with a hand in the air.

His was a wave; hers, a fist.

It was long ago.

In the years since that triumphant ride through New York City, apartheid fell, the Mandelas divorced, Nelson became president. Meanwhile Winnie's star fell following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings in the late 1990s that she was responsible for the deaths of several missing blacks suspected of being informers or opposing her.

I still see the footage of Bishop Desmond Tutu begging her to acknowledge any wrongdoing so that she would be forgiven.

She never did.

There is an ugly side of any fight for freedom, of any war for liberation. Crimes, or at least what some say constitutes crime, often get washed away like blood on a rainy battlefield.

Bones buried often stay that way.

But sometimes those bones are unearthed.

Recently, there appeared the Associated Press headline about two bodies exhumed in South Africa. Two young blacks killed, their deaths tied to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

During those Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, she was reportedly incensed that those who had tortured and killed so many could be forgiven and that freedom fighters could be treated the same as the oppressors who violated all manner of human rights.

It is the age-old battle of the oppressed and the oppressors. Do those held down have the right to attain their freedom by any means necessary?

Six years ago, when I was in Johannesburg, the driver who showed me Soweto, the apartheid museum and countless other places where the movement took root shared with me the ugly side of the struggle.

He talked about the police who made a habit of driving through the black townships shooting randomly. He talked about friends killed. He talked about suspected informers and the gasoline-soaked tire placed around the neck and set ablaze.

He had no sympathy for informers because they cost many lives of freedom fighters, though he acknowledged that anyone could accuse anyone else of collaborating and get rid of someone for reasons beyond the movement.

I understood and yet …

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