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.