Johannesburg, South Africa: Winnie Madikizela Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid leader and former wife of Nelson Mandela, died in Johannesburg on Monday at the age of 81, her personal assistant, Zodwa Zwane has confirmed.
A statement from Mandela’s family said the former political prisoner, who used her family name of Madikezela after her divorce, had been in and out of hospital since the beginning of the year. She had back surgery a year ago.
“She succumbed peacefully surrounded by her family and loved ones in the early hours of Monday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Mrs Madikezela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid. She fought valiantly against the apartheid state … sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country and helped to give the struggle for justice in South Africa one of its most recognisable faces.”
Fikile Mbalula, a senior member of the African National Congress (ANC), described “Mama Winnie” as “a great symbol for the resistance against a brutal government”.
Jeff Radebe, the South African minister of energy, said “Mama Winnie Mandela was recognised by the people as the Mother of the Nation. As the ANC we dip our banner”.
Herman Mashaba, the opposition party mayor of Johannesburg, said Madikezela-Mandela served South Africa with distinction.
Madikizela Mandela was married to Mandela for 38 years before the pair divorced in 1996.
Born in 1936, in the poor Eastern Cape province, Madikizela-Mandela became politicised at an early age in her job as a hospital social worker.
Strikingly attractive, articulate, clever and committed – her given name, Nomzamo, means “one who strives” – 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. But the union was short-lived. Mandela was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason.
During her husband’s 27-year incarceration, Madikizela-Mandela campaigned tirelessly for his release and for the rights of black South Africans. She was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, though he was in prison for 27 of those. During those years, she assumed his mantle while raising two daughters and getting jailed on multiple occasions.
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.
In a broadcast to the nation, South Africa President, Cyril Ramaphosa said Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a voice of defiance and resistance. He also called her a champion of justice and equality.
President Ramaphosa said Winnie Mandela will be laid to rest on the 14th of April, a memorial will be held on the 11th of April – both will be official ceremonies.
Retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu hailed Winnie Mandela as “a defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Madikizela-Mandela “a leading figure at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Guterres said “she was a strong and fearless voice in the struggle for equal rights and will be remembered as a symbol of resistance,” Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
UN Women Verified account @UN_Women: Despite all odds, @winniemandela fought courageously against all forms of oppression. Today, we carry the torch & continue to work towards a more equal & just world.
Women’s March Verified account @womensmarch Today we remember #WinnieMandela for her activism and leadership. We will not forgot your contributions in the fight against apartheid and racial discrimination.
Black Lives Matter Verified account @Blklivesmatter: Our hearts are heavy with loss. We honor and love you, Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for fighting for us. #WinnieMandela
Ben Murray-Bruce Verified account @benmurraybruce: Adieu #WinnieMandela. You kept the struggle to abolish apartheid going while Mandiba kept hope alive in Robben Island. Nobody is perfect, yet we can say you were most fitting for the role that was thrust on you. You are gone but not forgotten. Not by a long stretch. Rest in peace
Be A King Verified account @BerniceKing: Rest in power, #WinnieMandela. Grateful to have met and shared powerful moments with her. She and my mother, #CorettaScottKing, had poignant, memorable meetings.
NelsonMandela Verified account @NelsonMandela: Hamba kahle Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela : Foundation mourns the passing away of #WinnieMandela @WinnieMandela
Maxine Waters Verified account @RepMaxineWaters: Today I mourn the loss of my dear friend & one of the greatest leaders & activists in the world: Winnie Mandela. I worked w/ her on the release of Nelson Mandela & to end apartheid in South Africa. We should all pay tribute to Winne’s persistence in the face of injustice & racism.
Bukola Saraki Verified account @bukolasaraki: Winnie Mandela was a courageous trailblazer whose notable role in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa and liberate its people of colour cannot be forgotten. We join all South Africans and women across the world to mourn her passing.
Femi Fani-Kayode Verified account @realFFK: Winnie Mandela was a great woman whose memory will remain etched in our hearts and minds till the end of time.She was not just a South African icon but a source of inspiration and strength to millions all over Africa and a hero to the people of the world.We shall miss her.
Viola Davis Verified account @violadavis: A woman who epitomized how the power of a woman’s love, intelligence and vision can change a culture. RIP Winnie Mandela
Naomi Campbell Verified account @NaomiCampbell: I cherish the times I spent with you, embracing me in your family & home. You were Woman of strength that endured so much hardship and sacrifice. Without you we would not know anything about Tata and his 27 years. You will remain in my heart!! R.I.P WINNIE MANDELA
William Samoei Ruto Verified account @WilliamsRuto: The world mourns a towering anti-apartheid figure and an unrelenting crusader of democracy, human rights and good governance. Winnie Mandela was the embodiment of the long, persistent struggle to liberate the people of South Africa from the racial segregation regime.
Estelle Verified account @EstelleDarlings: She lived for everyone, fought for lives and empowered along the way. RIP to a revolutionary, Winnie Mandela!
Keisha Lance Bottoms Verified account @KeishaBottoms: Winnie Mandela was one of the first dignitaries I met when I joined City Council. Winnie Mandela’s selfless and exceptional courage in her fight to end apartheid in South Africa forever changed our world. My thoughts and prayers are with her family. May she Rest In Peace.
Nana Akufo-Addo Verified account @NAkufoAddo: I’m deeply saddened by the news of the death of Winnie Mandela. Her name will echo down the ages, and will forever be remembered as a freedom fighter and a remarkable woman. Rest in perfect peace “Mama Wetu.” You’ve earned it.
Orlando Pirates FC Verified account @orlandopirates: Orlando Pirates Football Club is saddened by the passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mother of our Nation. We salute the great contribution she has made in her fight for freedom for the oppressed. May her soul repose peacefully. #OnceAlways