Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the South African freedom-fighting activist who sustained the anti-apartheid battle while her husband, Nelson Mandela was in jail, has died.
She was 81. A statement from the Mandela family said Madikizela-Mandela had struggled with “a long illness” since the start of the year and “succumbed peacefully” at a hospital in Johannesburg.
Once known as “the mother of the nation,” Madikizela-Mandela was one of South Africa’s most well-known female freedom fighters. During her husband’s 27 years in prison, Madikizela-Mandela played a critical role sharing his message with the world.
“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 recognizable faces,” the Mandela family said.
Her dedication to the anti-apartheid cause frequently landed her in jail.
But her fall from grace began around the time of Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, when she was implicated in brutal behavior by the Mandela United Football Club, which she founded.
She was convicted of kidnapping and assaulting a 14-year-old who was beaten to death by members of the club. Madikizela-Mandela was given a six-year sentence that was eventually reduced to a fine. By 1992 she and Nelson Mandela had separated. Their separation resulted in tawdry details in South African newspapers.
“You’re running around f—ing at the slightest emotional excuse,” she wrote in a letter to a young lover, according to Times Live.
“The fact that I haven’t been speaking to Tata (Nelson Mandela) for five months now over you is no longer your concern. I keep telling you the situation is deteriorating at home. You are not bothered because you are satisfying yourself every night with a woman.”
They were married for 38 years.
Mandela died in 2013 at the age of 95.
Madikizela-Mandela, along with Mandela’s second wife, Graça Machel, was at his bedside when he died.