Johannesburg AP is reporting that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist and former wife of Nelson Mandela, has died peacefully following a long illness, according to a family spokesman.
“She died 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.”
“She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country,” the statement continued. “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 its most recognisable faces.”
Madikizela-Mandela was jailed several times for her part in the fight against white-minority rule and she campaigned for the release of her husband at home and abroad.
But her marriage to Mandela began to fall apart in the years after he was released from prison in 1990. The couple divorced
Hailed as mother of the “new” South Africa, Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy as an anti-apartheid heroine was undone when she was accused of being a ruthless ideologue prepared to sacrifice laws and lives in pursuit of revolution and redress.
Her uncompromising methods and refusal to forgive contrasted sharply with the reconciliation espoused by her husband as he worked to forge a stable, pluralistic democracy from the racial division and oppression of apartheid.
The contradiction contributed to ending their marriage and destroyed the esteem in which she was held by many South Africans, although the firebrand activist retained the support of radical black nationalists to the end.
As evidence emerged in the dying years of apartheid of the brutality of her Soweto enforcers, the “Mandela United Football Club” (MUFC), her soubriquet switched from ”Mother of the Nation” to “Mugger”.
Blamed for the killing of the activist Stompie Seipei, who was found near her Soweto home with his throat cut, she was convicted in 1991 of kidnapping and assaulting the 14-year-old because he was suspected of being an informer. Her six-year jail term was reduced on appeal to a fine.
Four years later, she was back in court, facing fraud and theft charges in relation to an elaborate bank loan scheme.
Born on 26 September 1936, in Bizana, Eastern Cape province, Madikizela-Mandela became politicized at an early age in her job as a hospital social worker.
As the years passed and Madikizela-Mandela’s public standing plummeted, her relationship with the party she loved soured. She bore the air of a troublemaker, arriving late at rallies and haranguing comrades, including Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor as president.
“I told him a few home truths. I told him that he and his other like-minded cretins were only sitting here because of our struggle and me – because of the things I and people like me had done to get freedom,” she said.
“I am not sorry. I will never be sorry,” she concluded. “I would do everything I did again if I had to. Everything.”