Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie, walk hand-in hand-with their raised clenched fists upon Mandela’s release from Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town South Africa. ( (AP Photo/Greg English, File)
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who emerged as a combative anti-apartheid campaigner during her husband Nelson Mandela’s decades in jail but whose reputation was later tarnished by allegations of violence, died on Monday at the age of 81.
Madikizela-Mandela died peacefully surrounded by her family following a long illness that kept her in and out of hospital since the start of the year, family spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement.
“Winnie Mandela leaves a huge legacy and, as we say in African culture, a gigantic tree has fallen,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said after visiting Madikizela-Mandela’s house in Soweto, where he was surrounded by singing mourners.
Winnie Madikizela Mandela talks to Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca at her Winnie’s 70th birthday celebrations held at Voda World in Midrand. 250207 Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
“She has been one of the strongest women in our struggle, who suffered immensely under the apartheid regime, who was imprisoned, who was banished, who was treated very badly,” he said.
An official memorial service will be held for Madikizela-Mandela on April 11 and a national funeral on April 14, said Ramaphosa, who declared earlier that South Africans had lost “a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a comrade, a leader and an icon.”
A crowd of around 200 people congregated outside Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home soon after her death was announced, singing and dancing. The cause of death or nature of her illness was not disclosed.
Winnie Mandela and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu at FNB Stadium during the State Memorial Service for the Late Former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in Johannesburg.10/12/2013 GCIS
Ministers and national figures paid tribute, including retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among those who offered his condolences from abroad, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“The secretary-general is saddened by the passing of Ms. Winnie Madikizela Mandela, a leading figure at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa. She was a strong and fearless voice in the struggle for equal rights and will be remembered as a symbol of resistance,” he said.
Nelson and Winnie Mandela show off their firstborn daughter, Zindzi, at their home in Orlando West, Soweto in 1961. Mandela fled into exile overseas as the political situation in South Africa worsened, returning from exile eventually, only to be arrested and to be sentenced to life imprisonment in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. He served 27 years in prison before his release in 1992 after which he was elected president of South Africa. After his retirement as president in 1999, Mandela intended to spend more time with his family – the people he has often said paid the highest price for his political activism. (AP Photo/Star, Alf Khumalo) MANDATORY CREDIT
Born on Sept. 26, 1936, in Bizana, Eastern Cape province, Madikizela-Mandela became politicised at an early age in her job as a hospital social worker.
The 22-year-old Winnie caught the eye of Mandela at a Soweto bus-stop in 1957, starting a whirlwind romance that led to their marriage a year later.
After Nelson Mandela was jailed for life in 1964 for sabotage and plotting to overthrow the government, Madikizela-Mandela campaigned tirelessly for his release and emerged as a prominent anti-apartheid figure in her own right, undergoing detention, banishment and arrest.
South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, are shown during an appearance together in Durban, South Africa in July 1991. Mandela accused his estranged wife of adultery, telling a divorce court Monday, March 18, 1996, that he was determined to end a marriage that “exists only on paper.” (AP Photo/FILE/John Parkin)
She punched the air in the clenched-fist salute of black power as she walked hand-in-hand with Mandela out of Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town, on Feb. 11, 1990.
For husband and wife, it was a crowning moment that led four years later to the end of centuries of white domination when Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.
But their marriage began to fall apart in the years after his release. The couple divorced in 1996, nearly four decades after they were married. They had two children together.
Former President Nelson Mandela, left, and his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, sit during the unveiling of a live size Mandela statue at Drakenstein Prison near Franschhoek, South Africa, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008. Nelson Mandela has continued his birthday celebrations by visiting the last prison where he was held for the unveiling of a statue honoring him as South Africa’s first black president. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
The end of apartheid marked the start of a string of legal and political troubles for Madikizela-Mandela.
As evidence emerged in the dying years of apartheid of the brutality of her Soweto enforcers, the “Mandela United Football Club”, her soubriquet switched from “Mother” of the nation to “Mugger”.
Blamed for the killing of activist Stompie Seipei, who was found near her Soweto home with his throat cut, she was convicted in 1991 of kidnapping and assaulting the 14-year-old because he was suspected of being an informer. Her six-year jail term was reduced on appeal to a fine.