Anti-apartheid Activist Winnie Mandela died April 2 after an unspecified long illness in Johannesburg, South Africa at the age of 81. According to a statement issued by the family, she was surrounded by her family at the time of her death.
She was married to fellow activist and South African leader Nelson Mandela for nearly 40 years before their divorce in 1996. Imprisoned for most of their married life, Winnie kept Nelson’s activism alive against the minority rule of the white population over the Afrikaners. Her activities led to her being imprisoned herself a number of time including one occasion when a very pregnant Winnie was imprisoned for two weeks as a result of her participation in a protest.
The continual harassment by government officials, forced isolation, and harsh treatment failed to cower her, instead it hardened her to where she often saw violence as a means to an end.
While considered the “Mother of a Nation” by many and a serving member of the African National Congress, Winnie was not without scandal and controversy of her own with charges of kidnapping, assault, and fraud.
While he continued to love her, Winnie and Nelson separated and later divorced in 1996 – only a few years after he was released from a 27 years prison sentence.
Despite her various legal issues, Winnie went on to become the President of the African National Congress Women’s League; the first black First Lady of South Africa; and Deputy Minister of arts, culture, science, and technology. She was presented with South Africa’s highest honour – the Order of Luthuli – for her work toward democracy for the nation.
She was born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela on September 26, 1936 in Bizana, South Africa – an area that is now known as the Eastern Cape province. She became interested in politics after arriving in Johannesburg as the first black social worker where she discovered that the high infant mortality rate among the black citizens was due to poverty and racism.
Predeceased by Nelson Mandela, Winnie’s survivors include daughter’s Zindzi and Zenani, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.