Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, 1936–2018, RIP

Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela-Mandela, the iconic, controversial South African activist known as ‘the Mother of the Nation’ and, more simply, as ‘Winnie’, has died in Johannesburg. She was eighty-one.

The cause of death was not immediately released, but Madikizela-Mandela had been in hospital for a kidney infection as recently as January.

Her last public appearance was apparently earlier this month, when she participated in a voter registration drive with SA president Cyril Ramaphosa:

Madikizela-Mandela was the subject of many books, including, perhaps most notably, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele’s work of fiction The Cry of Winnie Mandela (David Philip, 2003 and Picador Africa, 2013), which explored her role in South African politics and history.

Madikizela-Mandela was detained by the apartheid state on many occasions—both for her activism and her association with her former husband, Nelson Mandela—and she published her journal from one of these episodes in 2013, 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 (Picador Africa). The journal and book chronicle ‘her depths of despair as well as her resilience and defiance under extreme pressure. This young wife and mother emerged after 491 days in detention unbowed and determined to continue the struggle for freedom’.

The Mandela family released an official statement:

It is with profound sadness that we inform the public that Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday the 2nd of April 2018.

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 Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against Apartheid. She fought valiantly against the Apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country. Her activism and resistance to Apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions, eventually causing her banishment to the small town of Brandfort in the then Orange Free State.

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 Mandela family are deeply grateful for the gift of her life and even as our hearts break at her passing, we urge all those who loved her to celebrate this most remarkable woman.

The family will release details of the memorial and funeral services once these have been finalised.

Gallery: launch of 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69


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