Who Translated Winnie Mandela?

Published on May 18, 2018

By Kali Faulwetter

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
26 September 1936 – 2 April 2018


"They think because they have put my husband on an island that he will be forgotten. They are wrong. The harder they try to silence him, the louder I will become!"

– Winnie Mandela avenging the imprisonment of her husband, Nelson Mandela, in 1962.


With the recent death of Winnie Mandela, an anti-Apartheid Freedom Fighter, author, and political figure, South Africa’s complex history is once again in the spotlight. Winnie was a force to be reckoned with for the apartheid police state, and became a prominent representative of her husband, Nelson Mandela, while he was in prison. Throughout her career in activism, she wrote two novels recounting her experiences with the Freedom Fighters. 

South Africa is characterized as the Rainbow Nation. With a rainbow of cultures comes endless languages, so one has to wonder...while Winnie was translating her husband's revolutionary voice to the public while he was in prison, who were the professional translators behind Winnie Mandela’s novels?

  • In 1969, five years after her husband was imprisoned, Winnie Mandela was detained with other anti-apartheid activists and jailed for 16 months. She kept journals of her experience and wrote letters to her husband. Ultimately, she would collect these writings and produce her first novel, 491 Days, Prisoner number 1323/69. A collection was written while in solitary confinement, 491 Days discusses her detention under the 1969 Terrorism Act, designed to allow the police to hold and question anyone for as long as they wanted. She fiercely resisted abuse from South African authorities and was just as prominent a Freedom Fighter as her husband.
  • Part of My Soul, written in 1984 and translated into French and German by Anne Benjamin, Mary Benson, and Dominique Malaquais, marks Winnie’s thoughts and feelings surrounding her defense of her husband before his presidency. During Nelson Mandela’s trial in 1962, Winnie showed up each day, dressed to the nines, sitting in the ‘whites-only’ section, white policemen onlooking in horror at the very idea of a black woman behaving freely.

So who translated Winnie Mandela? Because her books were written in English, and because of the lack of majority interest in South Africa’s “sublanguages” it is difficult to find translations of Mandela out of the English, French, and German. However, while her husband was in prison, Winnie served as a political translator of her husband’s ideas to the world. They imprisoned Nelson but underestimated Winnie’s command of the issues the Freedom Fighters sought to liberate South Africa from. Thanks to Winnie, South Africa’s liberation was not jailed with Nelson Mandela.


Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in numbers:

Number of Part of My Soul editions published in 1986 in French and German 


Number of WorldCat member libraries worldwide providing copies of Une part de mon âme


While Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, Winnie Mandela was repeatedly beaten up, banned, harassed and imprisoned for her continuation of her husband’s work.


The South African Translators' Institute (SATI) is a professional association for language practice professionals in South Africa.

Tolika is an application that helps South Africans translate other South African official languages to their own.

For further reading on the Mandelas, Apartheid, and South Africa’s Freedom Fighters, visit the Cornell University Library.

For more politically charged translation, check out MotaWord’s articles about Sabahattin Ali and Persepolis.


About MotaWord

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About This Article

Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We will be researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog.

You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site. To help us make this segment more tailored to our community, contribute any comments, ideas for articles, or share your story please contact kali@motaword.com.

Citations: TheGuardian, NPR, OhioSwallow, BBC, SBS, NewAfricanMag, NelsonMandela, MG