Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, South African anti-apartheid campaigner, dead at 81

"She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country", family spokesman Victor Dlamini said.

Uncompromising opponent of racial-segregation system maintained ties with Nelson Mandela despite their divorce in 1996.

After their separation she kept his surname and they maintained ties, leading to critics accusing her of attempting to use his name for political mileage.

She nevertheless sought to remain in Mandela's orbit. He was married at the time to Evelyn Mase but the marriage was breaking up. She was banned from meeting with more than one person at a time.

Madikizela-Mandela led an global campaign calling for his release.

While he was in prison, she took on an increasingly political role, partly because of constant harassment by the South African security police.

"Ms. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela dedicated her life to the mission for which the NAACP stands: justice and equality for all peoples of the African Diaspora", said Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO.

In 1976, the year of the Soweto riots, she was banished from the township to a remote rural area.

"As the ANC we dip our revolutionary banner in salute of this great icon of our liberation struggle", he said.

The soccer club "Mandela United Football Team" which she founded and whose members she also used as bodyguards, made some headlines, too.

In 1985, she defied government orders and returned to her Soweto home after her Brandfort house was firebombed.


Winnie Mandela often criticised the ANC, but she had expressed support for the current leadership of the party, which her husband led to power in the euphoric post-apartheid elections of 1994.

Known as the "Mother of the Nation" (because of her work to liberate Black Africans against the white-minority rule in South Africa), she came to rise as the wife of Nelson Mandela, with whom they shared 38 years in matrimony.

Madikizela-Mandela's story grabbed the imagination of people around the world. One of them, Stompie Moeketsi, was murdered a few days later.

Five years later, she too was jailed by the white minority government she was fighting against.

Mandela, approaching 40 and the father of three, declared on their first date that he would marry her.

In 2001, a television camera caught Mbeki brushing Madikizela-Mandela away and knocking off her hat after she arrived an hour late for a rally to commemorate a 1976 anti-apartheid uprising by Soweto schoolchildren and students.

"We can't get exhausted when you have given us work to do‚" Ramaphosa said, paying fulsome praise to her appearance.

She appealed and was found guilty of being an accessory in the assault, and the sentence was reduced to a fine and a suspended prison term.

The ANC, which was the main movement against apartheid, had lost popularity in recent years in part because of scandals linked to former president Jacob Zuma, who resigned in February.

She joined youths and activists to redeem jailed activists.


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