Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Has Passed at 81

FILE -- In this Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990 file photo, 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. Mandela never met with Martin Luther King Jr but the two fought for the same issues at the same time on two different continents. Mandela said in a 1964 speech that he was prepared to die to see his dream of a society where blacks and whites were equal become reality. King was killed by an assassin's bullet while working for that same dream. ( (AP Photo/Greg English, File)

FILE — In this Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990 file photo, 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. Mandela never met with Martin Luther King Jr but the two fought for the same issues at the same time on two different continents. Mandela said in a 1964 speech that he was prepared to die to see his dream of a society where blacks and whites were equal become reality. King was killed by an assassin’s bullet while working for that same dream. ( (AP Photo/Greg English, File)

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.