Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist in her own right whose reputation was sullied by scandal, has died. She was 81.
Madikizela-Mandela will be honored by a state funeral on April 14, preceded by an official memorial service on April 11, said President Cyril Ramaphosa after visiting her home in Johannesburg’s Soweto township Monday evening. Ramaphosa described Madikizela-Mandela in a televised tribute as a “champion of justice and equality” and a “voice for the voiceless.”
The woman many South Africans have described as the “Mother of the Nation” and a champion of the Black majority, died “surrounded by her family and loved ones,” according to a statement released by Madikizela-Mandela’s family. Madikizela-Mandela was the second of Mandela’s three wives, married to him from 1958 to 1996.
Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013, was imprisoned throughout most of their marriage, and Madikizela-Mandela’s own activism against white minority rule led to her being jailed for months and placed under house arrest for years.
“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 of its most recognizable faces,” the family said.
However, Madikizela-Mandela’s political activism was marred by her conviction in 1991 for kidnapping and assault, for which she was fined. She faced these allegations again during the 1997 hearings before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel that investigated apartheid-era crimes.
Still, Madikizela-Mandela remained a venerated figure in the ruling African National Congress, which has led South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. She continued to tell the party “exactly what is wrong and what is right at any time,” said senior ANC leader Gwede Mantashe.
Nobel laureate and former archbishop Desmond Tutu, a periodic critic of the ruling party, noted her passing by describing Madikizela-Mandela as “a defining symbol” of the fight against apartheid.
#WinnieMadikizelaMandela was for many years a defining symbol of the struggle against #Apartheid. Leah & I send our heartfelt condolences to her daughters, grandchildren & extended family. May she rest in peace & rise in glory.
— DesmondTutu Official (@TheDesmondTutu) April 3, 2018
We’re devastated to learn the news of the passing of the Mother of our nation, one of the great architects of our liberation struggle, iqhawe lamaqhawe uMama #WinnieMandela. In our darkest hour she illuminated the torch of hope through her tireless commitment to freedom & justice pic.twitter.com/91RO3zrjx0
— Min. Nathi Mthethwa (@NathiMthethwaSA) April 2, 2018
— Thabiso Sithole (@ThabisoSithole) April 2, 2018
— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) April 2, 2018
Rest in power, #WinnieMandela. You did your best in a maddening, impossible hell — one that broke, killed or oppressed millions. You kept fighting when others would have given up or given in. You won and lost everything. Only God can judge you now. #RIPwinniemadikizelamandela
— Van Jones (@VanJones68) April 2, 2018
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. pic.twitter.com/tN5b9fBl95
— Bukola Saraki (@bukolasaraki) April 2, 2018