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 …
The battle for freedom anywhere and everywhere that involves armed struggle is never clean, never faultless, never quite the way it is depicted.
I still feel the joy of that triumphant parade of the Mandelas on that June day in New York City. But it is now balanced with the pain of Winnie's reckoning.
During those Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, she was found responsible but never held accountable. Now there are the bodies.
I look at the photo from 1990 — her hand in a fist, his in a wave.
Nelson Mandela forgave those who trespassed against him. Winnie never did.
How is that?
Many years ago when I was an Illinois teen, there was a fellow black perplexed about an elderly neighbor's anger over a white person playing on the basketball court in our black neighborhood.
You don't know what he experienced in his lifetime, I said. He undoubtedly was banned from certain places and experienced worse than you or I can imagine.
Years later in Connecticut, there was a white neighbor dismissive of a Jewish woman's sensitivity over things perceived as anti-Semitic.
You don't know what she experienced across a span of time and place, I said.
She could have lost family and friends in the Holocaust.
Nothing happens for nothing. There are reasons people respond the way they do. It doesn't excuse their anger or sensitivity. It doesn't make it right. But at least it gives it perspective.
When the fight is over, not everyone can unclench a fist.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now