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Winnie Mandela dies at 81

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – Trevor Samson – | Winnie and Nelson Mandela raise their fists at the football stadium in Soweto (South Africa) during a large rally organized on February 13, 1990, to celebrate the release of the anti-apartheid leader two days earlier

Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of the icon of the fight against apartheid Nelson Mandela, died Monday at age 81 in a hospital in Johannesburg after a long illness.

Married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, Winnie was also a key figure in the struggle against the racist regime imposed in South Africa by the white minority, but her struggle was burdened by accusations of human rights violations.

“It is with great sadness that we inform the public that Winnie Madikizela Mandela died at the Netcare Milpark hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday,” a statement from her family said.

“She died as a result of a long illness, for which she was hospitalized several times since the beginning of the year, and left in peace early on Monday afternoon, surrounded by her family,” she added.

The African National Congress (ANC, in power), the movement of the struggle against the segregationist regime, paid tribute to a woman who “symbolized strength, endurance and an eternal soul of freedom”, according to Mbalula Fikile, a person in charge of match.

“He fought until the end, without truce, so that we could have a just and egalitarian society, and dedicated his life to the service of the African people,” he added.

Ⓒ AFP – Mujahid Safodien – | Relatives arrive at the home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto (South Africa) on Monday, April 2, after hearing the news of his death

For his part, the former Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, another of the figures in the fight against the racist regime, spoke of “great symbol”.

“She refused to give in to her husband’s incarceration, the continued harassment of her family by the security forces, the arrests, the prohibitions and her exile,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said in a statement. “His attitude of challenge inspired me deeply, as well as generations of fighters,” he added.

Most of his years of marriage with Nelson Mandela lived away from him because he was in prison for 27 years. She had to raise her two daughters alone, while maintaining her struggle.

But his reputation was tarnished years later. In 1986 it was linked to the death of several anti-apartheid militants, considered “traitors” to the cause, who at that time died burned alive with a tire around their necks.

In 1990, the image of Nelson Mandela leaving prison in the hands of Winnie went around the world.

However, a year later she was convicted of kidnapping and assault in the Stompie Moeketsi case, a 14-year-old boy who was killed.

In 1992, she separated from her husband and they divorced in 1996 after a legal process that revealed her relationship with a young bodyguard.

In her last years Winnie was considered again as “Mother of the Nation” and symbol of the struggle that her ex-husband and of the whole country incarnated against apartheid.

Last month, he appeared in some television pictures joking with Cyril Ramaphosa, the new South African president, who paid him a visit to his home in Soweto, the former black ghetto where he lived for decades.

In those images, where she was dressed in the colors of the ANC (yellow, black and green), she asked Ramaphosa, known for running every morning. “How do you do to not get tired?” “We can not get tired when they give us work to do,” the president responded, praising his good form.

Winnie Mandela had given her support to the current leader of the ANC, the party with which Nelson Mandela became in 1994 the first black president of the country.

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