South African anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie Mandela has died aged 81, her personal assistant says. Winnie Madikizela Mandela was the former wife of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela. The couple – famously pictured hand-in-hand as Madiba walked free from prison after 27 years – were a symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle for nearly three decades. However, in later years her reputation became tainted legally and politically.
Family spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement: “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.”
Mrs Mandela was born in 1936 in the Eastern Cape, then known as Transkei, to a Xhosa family in Bizana, British South Africa. She was a trained social worker when she met her future husband in the 1950s. 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 imprisonment. It was Mrs Mandela who took his baton after he was jailed for life, becoming an international symbol of resistance to apartheid and a rallying point for poor, black township residents who demanded their freedom.
Five years later, she too was jailed by the white minority government she was fighting against. In 1976 she was once again jailed without trial and afterwards banished to a bleak township outside the profoundly conservative white town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State. Contrary to the Apartheid Government’s intention her cramped home became a place of pilgrimage for diplomats and prominent sympathisers a s well as many journalists. She scorned many of her restrictions, using Whites Only public phones and ignoring the segregated counters buying champagne at the liquor store – gestures that stunned the areas whites. She later wrote “I am a living symbol of the white man’s fear. I never realised how deeply this fear was until I came to Brandfort.” In her isolation from what passed for normal life she started to drink heavily.
As the crescendo of anti-Apartheid unrest and resistance grew she defied her banning order and returned to Soweto in 1985. Mrs Mandela – an icon of the struggle – found herself mired in controversy. She was a far more bellicose figure determined to assume leadership of what became the decisive and most violent phase of the struggle. As she saw it her role was to stiffen the confrontation with the authorities and the tactics were harsh. She was heard backing the practice of “necklacing” – putting burning tyres around suspected informants’ necks – and was accused of conducting a virtual reign of terror in parts of Soweto by other members of the African National Congress (ANC) in the late 1980s.
In the those desperate years of apartheid when Nelson Mandela and so many anti- apartheid heroes were locked up on Robben Island we looked to Winnie who fought fearlessly as a defiant voice for the voiceless and a free South Africa. #RIPWinnieMandela pic.twitter.com/EBHhndPX5O
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 2, 2018
She was also found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for her involvement in the death of 14-year-old township militant Stompie Seipei. She always denied the allegation, and the sentence was reduced to a fine. Mr Mandela, who stood by her throughout the accusations, was finally released from prison in February 1990. But two years later, their marriage crumbled. The couple divorced in 1996, but she kept his surname and maintained ties with him.
Winnie Mandela broke under the horror of apartheid and her husband’s long imprisonment and went very wrong. But today, the day of her death, we remember the young idealist who fought a brave, lonely and largely successful fight for what was right against the racist and fascist inspired doctrine of Apartheid.
Her Xhosa name means “One who tries” and she did much more than that empowering a whole generation against racist oppression and exploitation. Hamba kakuhle.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela; 26 September 1936 – 2 April 2018 ), South African anti-apartheid activist and politician.
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