By Andrew Irumba
South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former first lady Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died aged 81.
She and her former husband Nelson Mandela, who were both jailed, were a symbol of the country’s anti-apartheid struggle for three decades.
Crowds of mourners and political figures flocked to her home in Soweto, in Johannesburg, after news of her death broke.
Family spokesman Victor Dlamini confirmed earlier on Monday that Mrs. Mandela “succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones” following a long illness, which had seen her go in and out of hospital since the start of the year.
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was born in 1936 in the Eastern Cape – then known as Transkei.
She was a trained social worker when she met her future husband in the 1950s. They went on to have two daughters together.
They were married for a total of 38 years, although for almost three decades of that time they were separated due to Mr. Mandela’s long imprisonment.
Who Is Winnie Madikizela Mandela?
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela OLS (born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela; 26 September 1936 ,2 April 2018, commonly known as Winnie Mandela, was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. She held several government positions, including as Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. A member of the African National Congress (ANC) party, she served on the ANC’s National Executive Committee and headed its Women’s League.
Born to a Xhosa family in Bizana, in the then Union of South Africa, she studied social work at the Jan Hofmeyr School. In 1958, she married anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg; they remained married for 38 years and had two children together. In 1963, Mandela was imprisoned following the Rivonia Trial; where she became his public face during the 27 years he spent in jail. During that period, she rose to prominence within the domestic anti-apartheid movement. She was arrested and detained by state security services on various occasions and spent several months in solitary confinement.
In the 1980s, when she was based in Soweto, Madikizela-Mandela endorsed violent behavior; including necklacing against alleged police informers and collaborators with the National Party government. Her security detail, known as the Mandela United Football Club, carried out a number of these actions, including the kidnapping, torture, and murder of such individuals, most notoriously the teenager Stompie Moeketsi. Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 11 February 1990, and the couple separated in 1992; their divorce was finalized in March 1996. They remained in contact, and she visited him when he was ill in later life. As a senior ANC figure, she took part in the post-apartheid ANC government, although was dismissed from her post amid allegations of corruption. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by Mandela’s government to investigate human rights abuses revealed many of her violent activities during the 1980s. In 2003, she was convicted of theft and fraud. She temporarily retreated from active political involvement, returning several years later.
Madikizela-Mandela retained some popular support within the ANC and was known to her supporters as the “Mother of the Nation”. During the apartheid era, she was offered academic honors abroad. She was reviled by others for having personally been responsible for the murder, torture, abduction, and assault of numerous men, women, and children, as well as indirectly being responsible for even more such crimes. Although branded by followers as “a revolutionary and heroic figure…it doesn’t take that much digging to remember the truly awful things she has been responsible for.”