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The Life and Times of the incomparable Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Mother of the Nation, face of the apartheid resistance and lifetime activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died. The iconic controversial matriarch remained unbowed throughout her life and will be remembered for her obstinance “I’m not sorry. I will never be sorry. I would do everything I did again if I had to. Everything.”



Anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela has passed away at the age of 81. The ex-wife of the late, famed South African leader Nelson Mandela died on Easter Monday.

“It is with profound sadness that we inform the public that Mrs. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital‚ Johannesburg‚ South Africa on Monday April 2‚ 2018,” her family said in a press statement. “She died after a long illness‚ for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year. She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”

A longtime stalwart of the ruling African National Congress she helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one of its most recognizable faces and kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island.

Her activism and struggle for justice came at great personal costs, but her sacrifice made one of South Africa’s most important freedom fighters. She was tortured, subjected to house arrest, kept under surveillance, held in solitary confinement for eighteen months at Pretoria Central Prison and exiled to the town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State and confined to the area, except for when she was allowed to visit her husband at Robben Island.

File photo of South African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela and his then-wife Winnie at their wedding in 1957. This copy was taken from the family album the original was by Alf Khumalo. Photo: ANP

Key dates in the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela:

1936: Born on September 26 as Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela in the Eastern Cape Province.
1955: Becomes the country’s first black social worker in a hospital in Johannesburg’s Soweto Township.
1958: Marries Nelson Mandela, a lawyer and leading member of the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC).
1962: Mandela is jailed. Over the next years, Madikizela-Mandela emerges as an influential ANC figure, enduring harassment and stints in prison.
1986: In her most controversial speech, she endorses the practice of “necklacing” or burning people by setting alight a tyre around their necks.
1990: Nelson Mandela is freed after 27 years in prison.
1991: Madikizela-Mandela is found guilty and fined for the kidnapping of four Soweto youths and the killing of one by her team of bodyguards known as the “Mandela United Football Club”.
1992: She is forced out of all executive positions in the ANC after allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
1994: Appointed deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology in Mandela’s unity government. The next year, she is sacked for insubordination but keeps her position as Member of Parliament and head of the powerful Women’s League.
1996: Is divorced from Mandela, after four years of separation.
1998: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission implicates her in torture, murder and abduction during the struggle against apartheid.
 2003-2004: Convicted of fraud, with a suspended jail sentence.
2009: Manages to secure only the fifth place on the ANC’s electoral list for the 2009 general election.
2013: Death of Nelson Mandela
April 2 2018: Death of Winnie Mandela

Read: 10 pictures of Nelson Mandela

Famous quips and Quotes

The “Mother of the Nation” never shied from speaking her mind and many found her manner of oration disarming with often cutting honesty. Some of her more famous quips include:

“I will not allow the selfless efforts of my husband and his friends to be abandoned. I will continue the struggle for a free and equal South Africa.”– 1962

“They think because they have put my husband on an island that he will be forgotten. They are wrong. The harder they try to silence him, the louder I will become!” – 1962

“To those who oppose us, we say, ‘Strike the woman, and you strike the rock’.” – 1966

“It is only when all black groups, join hands and speak with one voice that we shall be a bargaining force which will decide its own destiny.”– 1976

“If you are to free yourselves you must break the chains of oppression yourselves. Only then can we express our dignity, only when we have liberated ourselves can we co-operate with other groups. Any acceptance of humiliation, indignity or insult is acceptance of inferiority.”– 1976

“Together, hand in hand, with our matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.”– 1986

“There is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known.” – 1987

“I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy.” – 1996

“All what we fought for is not what is going on right now. It is a tragedy that he lived and saw what was happening, we cannot pretend like South Africa is not in crisis, our country is in crisis and anyone who cannot see that is just bluffing themselves.”– 2017

On the patriarchal nature of society the former leader of the ANC’s Women’s League stated:

“The overwhelming majority of women accept the patriarchy and protect it. Traditionally, the violated wife offloads her aggression onto the daughter-in-law. Men dominate women through the agency of women themselves.”

Awards and Accolades

In 1985, Winnie Mandela won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award along with fellow activists Allan Boesak and Beyers Naudé for their human rights work in South Africa. The Award is given annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to an individual or group whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy’s vision and legacy.


In 1988 she received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1988.

Then in 2016 she was awarded the he Order of Luthuli in silver for her “excellent contribution to the fight for the liberation of the people of South Africa.”