WINNIE Madikizela-Mandela‚ the ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, died today at the age of 81.
A statement from the iconic anti apartheid campaigner’s family said she died “peacefully” after a long illness at the Netcare Milpark Hospital‚ Johannesburg.
“She died after a long illness‚ for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year. She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones,” the statement said.
“She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognisable faces. She dedicated most of her adult life to the cause of the people and for this was known far and wide as the Mother of the Nation,” the statement added.
Soon after Winnie’s PA‚ Zodwa Zwane‚ confirmed the veteran campaigner’s death social media was awash with condolences and reminiscences about the stoical role she played in helping to defeat apartheid in South Africa.
Hundreds of Winnie’s supporters gathered outside her home in Soweto, Johannesburg to sing and dance in tribute.
In a televised address South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa – whom Mrs Madikizela-Mandela praised earlier this year – called her a “voice of defiance” against white-minority rule.
“In the face of exploitation, she was a champion of justice and equality,” he said. “She is an abiding symbol of the desire of our people to be free”.
Born in Bizana in the Eastern Cape in 1936‚ Winnie moved to Johannesburg to study social work after matriculating. She subsequently met Nelson Mandela. The couple married in 1958.
However, although their married life produced two children, it was short lived because Nelson, who was practising as a lawyer while also fully engaged in the African National Congress, was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason.
Mandela was eventually released in 1990.
During Mandela’s time in prison‚ Winnie became one of the most ferocious campaigners against apartheid. She was placed under house arrest and at one time banished to Brandfort‚ a town in the Free State.
In 1969‚ Winnie was detained for 18 months in solitary confinement in a condemned cell at Pretoria Central Prison before being charged under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950.
In 1991‚ Winnie was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to the assault of Stompie Seipei‚ a young activist who was killed by a member of her bodyguards‚ the Mandela United Football Club.
On appeal, Winnie’s six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence.
A few years after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and became the first elected black president of post apartheid South Africa, reports began to circulate that his marriage to Winnie was floundering.
Following South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994‚ Winnie became an MP and was appointed deputy minister of arts and culture. She was fired by Mandela after an unauthorised trip to Ghana.
However, Winnie remained an MP even after her divorce from Mandela in 1996.
In 2016 Winnie was conferred an Order of Luthuli in Silver during the National Orders Awards ceremony for her excellent contribution to the fight for the liberation of the people of South Africa.