Winnie Mandela the former wife of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela and South African‘s anti-apartheid campaigner has died aged 81, her personal assistant says. She died in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness, spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement.
Winnie Mandela, who was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, played a key part in the campaign to end white-minority rule but her place in history was also stained by controversy.
“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,” said a statement issued by Dlamini, a family spokesman.
“She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of the hospital since the start of the year. She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”
Most of Winnie’s marriage to Nelson was spent apart, with Nelson imprisoned for 27 years, leaving her to raise their two daughters alone and to keep alive his political dream under the repressive white-minority regime.
But Mrs Mandela – an icon of the struggle – also found herself mired in controversy.
She was heard backing the practice of “necklacing” – putting burning tyres around suspected informants’ necks – and was accused of conducting a virtual reign of terror in parts of Soweto by other members of the African National Congress (ANC) in the late 1980s.
The following year, she was convicted of kidnapping and assault over the killing of Stompie Moeketsi, a 14-year-old boy.
She was also found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for her involvement in the death of 14-year-old township militant Stompie Seipei. She always denied the allegation, and the sentence was reduced to a fine.
Mr Mandela, who stood by her throughout the accusations, was finally released from prison in February 1990.
But two years later, their marriage crumbled. The couple divorced in 1996, but she kept his surname and maintained ties with him.