Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Imagine being 41 years old. You have been beaten, imprisoned, berated, accused, belittled & betrayed by the keepers of a system you find profoundly unjust, a system you have fought against in protection of your people. Your husband is serving a life-sentence for doing the same; and you have two young children completely dependent on you. It’s 1977. It’s the Orange Free State, in South Africa; and you’re black. You are a black woman.
Now imagine you are a young wife. The wife of the only lawyer in your very small and very conservative town. You are a mother. You are a respected member of your church, your community and your family. You are educated and conditioned. It’s 1977. It’s the Orange Free State, in South Africa; and you’re white. You are white woman.
This is the story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela being banished & placed under house arrest for suspicion of breaking the terrorism act. To a house with no running water or electricity. At 41, she arrived, alone. To a town where apartheid was like a ghost that hovered over people’s silence & oppression, no matter whose side they were on. You can imagine Winnie’s loneliness.
So perhaps you can imagine that in 1977 Adele de Waal’s choice to go against her church, her community & her family; and befriend this outspoken black woman, who consistently used the ‘whites only’ public phone on the main street of town, was courageous to say the least. To make friends with a black woman was outlandish. Never mind a black woman with a voice & an opinion that she used, even in Brandfort. In Brandfort, in the Orange Free State, in South Africa, in 1977 this was an incredibly courageous thing to do. Years later, Winnie would describe Adele’s death as like losing a sister.
I love this story because primarily it’s about two women with a lot in common. Two wives, two mothers, two compassionate, intelligent & courageous women. Being kind to one another for 9 years but actually for a life time of friendship, despite the environment and the mistakes. True friendship. The kind that transcends conditioning. That their friendship was the catalyst, which ultimately got De Klerk to negotiate with Nelson Mandela, first for his release from prison; and later to help shape South Africa’s future as the President of a democratically led country - is a seismic consequence of this unlikely and precious friendship.
So why Adele de Waal in particular on my list of favourite women?
Because I think for someone like her, who stood to gain nothing and potentially lose everything, to take a stand by doing what was in her heart, which was that she simply had compassion for another woman, is truly heroic. And because of what was in her heart she turned into an activist and got really emotionally attached to something big, like bringing an end to apartheid, so she is one of my five top women, because she did something important even though I am sure it was hard. I think is an important reminder to us all that when we follow our hearts we do the right thing. And to do this we have to learn to access our hearts.
This is what my presentations are about. Personal mastery to build the muscle for compassion, connection, empathy, courage & strength, first for yourself & then for others. No matter who you are, where you work or what you do, without these things how do we survive?