Winnie Madikizela-Mandela dies aged 81

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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but also one of its most controversial figures, has died aged 81.

The ex-wife of the former South African president Nelson Mandela, she died at a hospital in Johannesburg after a long illness, her personal assistant, Zodwa Zwane, said.

Seen as the “mother of the nation” by many who admired her steely leadership, firebrand rhetoric and courageous activism against a brutal racist regime, Madikizela-Mandela was also repeatedly accused of being linked to violence andcorruption.

She was one of the few remaining representatives of the generation of activists who led the fight against apartheid. Her often negative image abroad contrasts with her deep and long-lasting popularity within her homeland.

A statement from her family said the former political prisoner, who used her family name of Madikizela after her divorce, had been “in and out of hospital since the beginning of the year”.

“She succumbed peacefully surrounded by her family and loved ones in the early hours of Monday afternoon,” the statement said.

“Mrs Madikezela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid. She fought valiantly against the apartheid state … sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country and helped to give the struggle for justice in South Africa one of its most recognisable faces.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another veteran of the struggle, was among those paying tribute. He said she was “a defining symbol” of the anti-apartheid struggle whose “courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to ... generations of activists”.

Fikile Mbalula, a senior member of the African National Congress (ANC), described “Mama Winnie” as “a great symbol for the resistance against a brutal government”.

Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s minister of energy, said: “Mama Winnie Mandela was recognised by the people as the Mother of the Nation. As the ANC we dip our banner.”

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