CAPE TOWN, April 2 – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, aged 81, has died on Monday, a Mandela family spokesperson confirmed.
The South African politician and anti-apartheid activist died on Monday, at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg, after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year, Victor Dlamini said in a statement.
“She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”
Madikizela-Mandela’s last public appearance was in March when she participated in a voter registration weekend with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Affectionately known as “Mother of the Nation”, Madikizela-Mandela came a long way since being banished to the little town of Brandfort in the Free State.
In the worst years of apartheid, she was repeatedly detained, jailed and banished, and spent most of her married life without her then husband late former president Nelson Mandela.
But she survived — weathering a string of controversies that would have snuffed out the political career of a lesser person.
Nomzamo Nobandla Winnifred Madikizela was born in Bizana, Pondoland, on September 26, 1936.
Her mother Nomathamsanqa Mzaidume, a domestic science teacher, died when Winnie was eight.
Her father became minister of forestry and agriculture of the Transkei government during the rule of Kaizer Matanzima.
A Bantustan was a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa (now Namibia), as part of the policy of apartheid. Ten Bantustans were established in South Africa, and then in neighbouring South West Africa, before it gained independence and was named Namibia in 1990.
Madikizela-Mandela attended high school at Shawbury before completing a social work diploma at the Jan Hofmeyer School in Johannesburg.
This was followed by a BA with an International Relations major at the University of the Witwatersrand.
While working as the first black medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital, exposed to the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, she started to become politicised.
She was first detained in 1958 for her role in the anti-pass campaign, and in the same year married Nelson Mandela, a member of the African National Congress’ national executive.
At the time, she served on the national executive of the ANC Women’s League, and chaired the Orlando West branch of the ANC.
Her first banning order in 1962 restricted her to Soweto.
Five years later, she was arrested in Cape Town on a visit to her husband. She spent one month in the Johannesburg prison known as the Fort.
Nelson Mandela had been jailed in 1962, initially for five years for inciting blacks to strike, and subsequently for life after being convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
In 1969, Winnie became one of the first detainees under Section 6 of the notorious Terrorism Act.
She was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months in the condemned cell at Pretoria Central before being charged — and eventually found not guilty — under the Suppression of Communism Act.
Her banning order expired in 1975, and was reimposed in December 1976.
In 1976, following her activities during the uprising by school children protesting the introduction of Afrikaans as the language of instruction, Madikizela-Mandela was detained for six months at the Fort.
In May 1977, she was banished to Brandfort in the Free State.
Here her house was bombed twice and in 1985 she was arrested for defying her restriction order and returning to Johannesburg.
Her autobiography, Part of My Soul Went With Him, was published in 1980.
In April 1986, she reportedly told a meeting in Munsieville that black people would liberate the country by means of matches and necklaces — executions carried out with a burning tyre.
She claimed afterwards she had been quoted out of context.
In May 1991, she was sentenced to an effective six years’ jail after being convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault.
In court, she claimed she was not present at her Orlando West, Soweto home in December 1988 when 14-year-old activist Stompie Seipei and three other youngsters were detained at her home and severely beaten.
Stompie later died. The judge found she had authorised his kidnapping.
In February 1990, she walked hand-in-hand with Nelson Mandela when he was freed from jail.
Their divorce was finalised in 1996, following reports that she had been having affairs with other men. She and Nelson had two daughters.
In May, the entire Women’s League PWV regional executive of which she was chairwoman, was suspended for “defiance, insubordination and total disloyalty” to the ANC.
Later that year, amid growing discontent over her conduct, she resigned from the ANC national executive and her post as head of the organisation’s social welfare department.
In January 1993, she launched a stinging attack on the ANC leadership, declaring that the then-current negotiations were being conducted between “the elite of the oppressed and the elite of the oppressors”.
This was — correctly — interpreted as the start of a comeback attempt
She had already begun capitalising on her popularity among militant township youths by appearing at rallies in combat fatigues and railing against the government and police.
In June 1993, her appeal against the kidnapping conviction in the Seipei case was dismissed, but she was given the option of paying a R15,000 fine instead of going to jail. An appeal against the accessory conviction was successful.
Less than a week later, she was appointed chairwoman of the Southern Transvaal region of the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) — a powerful force in the run-up to the elections. In November, she became Sanco deputy president.
In the same month she was elected to the ANC’s PWV regional executive, and in December was elected president of the ANC Women’s League by a large majority.
She withdrew her challenge as deputy presidency of the ANC at the last minute at the party’s 50th national congress in 1997.
That same year she had to endure a grilling by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about her role in alleged human rights abuses, including torture and murder.
According to a 1999 poll, Madikizela-Mandela was back in favour, being the 10th most popular ANC figure among South Africans.
Then deputy president Thabo Mbeki made it clear that the party would not abandon her, despite any past differences.
“Winnie has been unfairly crucified for things done within the political atmosphere of the time. I am prepared to stand by her… and against anybody calling for her removal from our election list,” Mbeki was quoted as saying that year.
During a visit to Zimbabwe in June 2000, Madikizela-Mandela expressed support for President Robert Mugabe’s campaign of invasions of white land.
In June 2001, Mbeki said the ANCWL president was disruptive and disrespectful at the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Soweto uprisings.
He disapproved of her arriving late at the solemn occasion and disrupting proceedings by insisting she sit with other dignitaries on the stage.
In October 2001, Madikizela-Mandela was released on bail of R5,000 after appearing in the Commercial Crime Court in Pretoria, on 60 charges of fraud and 25 of theft totalling almost R1 million.
She and her co-accused and financial adviser, Addy Moolman, allegedly were involved in a scam involving the use of her signature to fraudulently obtain personal loans for fictitious ANCWL employees from Saambou Bank and brokerage firm Imstud.
On April 25, 2003 she was sentenced to five years in jail.
She then announced her resignation as a Member of Parliament (MP), ANCWL president, member of the ANC’s national executive committee, and from attendant positions in the party.
After appealing to the high court in Pretoria, her jail sentence was wholly suspended.
In June 2007, she was barred from entering Canada to attend a special celebration in her honour because of her criminal record.
In 2002, Parliament’s ethics committee found her guilty of contravening Parliament’s Code of Conduct for failing to disclose donations of R50,000 a month, as well as her financial interests in the Winnie Mandela Family Museum.
She was the first MP to be found guilty under the code.
In April 2003, the then Cape High Court dismissed with costs her bid to stop National Assembly Speaker Frene Ginwala from publicly reprimanding her for this and imposing a 15-day salary fine on her.
As a sign of her continuing popularity, at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in December 2007, she was elected to the top of the party’s National Executive Committee list.
Despite objections from opposition parties that her criminal record disqualified her from running for a seat in the National Assembly, she was made a MP following general elections in April 2009.
She was a member of the portfolio committee on social development.
While she had been number nine on the party’s 1999 national list for Parliament, she was number five on its 2009 list.
Ma-Afrika Films announced in November 2009 that Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson would star as Winnie Mandela in a film to be made in 2010 in South Africa.
In the same year, Madikizela-Mandela drew media attention after an apparent attack on Nelson Mandela in an interview with British journalist Nadira Naipaul.
It was claimed that she attacked her ex-husband, claiming that he had “let blacks down” and that he was only “wheeled out to collect money”.
She was also quoted in the report carried by the London Evening Standard, saying Mandela was no longer “accessible” to her daughters.
The ANC stepped in and announced it would ask her to explain. However, Madikizela-Mandela disputed the interview as a “fabrication”.
She said it was an attempt to undermine the unity of her family, the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the high regard with which the name Mandela is held across the globe.
The newspaper expressed puzzlement over Madikizela-Mandela’s denial that she gave an interview.
Its managing editor, Doug Wills, maintained Naipaul had visited Madikizela-Mandela at home and had spoken to her at length about her experiences.
Madikizela-Mandela was one of the most visible backers of former ANC Youth League president and now Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema’s calls for “economic freedom” — which he said should be achieved by nationalising mines and seizing white-owned farms.
In 2011, she was seen at his side throughout his hate-speech trial, brought on by lobby group AfriForum for singing the song “Shoot the Boer” (shoot the farmer).
Malema, whom Madikizela-Mandela had proclaimed “the future president of South Africa”, was found guilty of hate speech in September of the same year.
She made headlines by testifying for Malema during the disciplinary hearing that resulted in his suspension from the party.
Madikizela-Mandela likened the disciplinary hearing against Malema to the hate speech case which was heard in the Equality Court.
Malema, the firebrand leader, was nipped in the bud for bringing the party into disrepute and sowing division within party ranks.
This was after he said the league would send a team to Botswana to consolidate local opposition parties and help bring about regime change in that country.
Madikizela-Mandela landed in hospital twice in 2011 — first for a foot operation in September and then to be treated for diabetes condition in November.
In June 2012, she was again hospitalised after breaking her wrist in a fall.
A year later the former first lady was seen at the military hospital in Pretoria where her ex-husband was being treated. He died in December, 2013.
Madikizela-Mandela underwent another surgery in hospital in October 2014, but it was not disclosed what the procedure was.
Two years later Madikizela-Mandela spent several weeks in hospital following back surgery.
She reportedly fell ill before judgment was handed down in the high court in Mthatha for her claim on her former husband’s Qunu house. Her claim was dismissed.
The following year, in October 2017, Madikizela-Mandela had a short stay in a hospital after a minor surgery.
In January 2018, just days after her Supreme Court of Appeal bid to lay claim to the Qunu house was refused, she was once again hospitalised after complaining of pain in one her legs as well as about a loss of appetite.
Upon admission, it was revealed that she had an infection which affected her kidneys.
Madikizela-Mandela is survived by her two daughters, Zindziswa Mandela-Hlongwane and Zenani Mandela.