Winnie Mandela was more than just Nelson Mandela’s wife.
Born in 1936 as Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, she lived 81 years as the first black medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital who fought against apartheid and became a political figure with controversial ups and downs.
After being in and out of the hospital since January, Madikizela-Mandela died peacefully at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday, April 2, according to a family spokesman.
At the age of 22, Madikizela-Mandela married her husband and they had two children. But, once Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for treason in 1963, their five-year marriage began to flounder.
Madikizela-Mandela came into her own during her husband’s 27-year stint in prison on Robben Island by spreading the message of anti-apartheid across the globe.
She was once known as “the mother of the nation.”
A woman who epitomized how the power of a woman’s love, intelligence and vision can change a culture. RIP Winnie Mandela ❤ pic.twitter.com/axAeS7re3u
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) April 2, 2018
According to the family’s statement, “Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against Apartheid. She fought valiantly against the Apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country.
Her activism and resistance to Apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions, eventually causing her banishment to the small town of Brandfort in the then Orange Free State.”
After Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Madikizela-Mandela was convicted in connection with a 1988 murder of a 14-year-old boy that her bodyguard committed. She was sentenced to six years in prison, but a higher court reduced her punishment to fines.
By 1992, the powerful couple’s separation played out in the local papers and they divorced in 1994. Mandela remarried and died in 2013.
Nevertheless, Madikizela-Mandela received South African’s highest honor, the Order of Luthuli, for her contributions for the country’s fight for democracy.