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Anti-Apartheid Fighter Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Dies at Age 81

The former wife of South Africa’s most famous president died early on Monday, April 2, 2018 after admittance to a South African hospital over the weekend. She was 81.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was previously married to South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, during the time of apartheid, including his incarceration and release from Robben Island. She has since gained her own recognition as an instrumental force against apartheid, especially among South Africa’s poor and marginalized segments of society.  Many post-apartheid leaders who remained loyal to Mr. Mandela could not deny her influence.

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Young Madikizela-Mandela met Nelson Mandela in Soweto in 1957 at the age of 22.  They spent most of their 38-year marriage apart as Mr. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.  Winnie Madikizela-Mandela raised their children and contributed to activism, keeping the Mandela dream moving forward.

She fought against her husband’s incarceration and against the white-majority rule in South Africa. When Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island in 1990, many watched as he and Winnie greeted the world hand-in-hand.

Madikizela-Mandela was an activist in her own right, contributing to the fall of South Africa’s racist regime.  Her activism led to her incarceration and years under house arrest. However, her reputation was soiled by multiple scandals including kidnapping and assault convictions in 1991 and allegations in 1997 before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Later, as parliamentarian, she was convicted of fraud during the first all-race elections.  This did not stop her from being the subject of respect for many South Africans.

“Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists,” praised Retired archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu.

Winnie’s death on Monday morning was a result of illness. “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.

African National Congress chairperson Gwede Mantashe said of her, “With the departure of Mama Winnie, [we have lost] one of the very few who are left of our stalwarts and icons. She was one of those who would tell us exactly what is wrong and right, and we are going to be missing that guidance.” He added, “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.”