On 2nd April, 2018 the world lost a formidable icon. Winnie Madikizela Mandela bade us farewell. She made her indelible mark on South Africa’s politics as a a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. With numerous achievements, it’s sad that many people only refer to her as Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife.

Winnie was born on 26 September 1936 in Mbizana Local Municipality, South Africa as the fifth of nine children. Her mother, Nomathamsanqa Mzaidume was a science teacher. From as early as 9 years old, Winnie encountered the rot of apartheid. One instance is when she, her siblings and their dad went to attend celebrations marking the end of the Second World War. On arrival at the venue, they were barred from entering the town hall since the event was for ‘whites only’. These and many more incidences sparked in her a resistance to the brutal system.

In October 1958, she took part in a mass action which mobilised women to protest against the Apartheid government’s infamous pass laws. During this march, police arrested 1000 women, who decided against applying for bail. Instead, they chose to remain in jail for two weeks as a further sign of protest. Winnie was pregnant at the time. Eventually, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela (whom she’d married a few years before) were called to arrange for bail. The African National Congress Party raised funds for this. Those who only saw Winnie under her husband’s shadow now recognised her as a separate force.

Winnie participated in many other initiatives in the fight for South Africa’s freedom from colonisers. She showed immense through it all, even when she was separated from her husband for the 27 years he was imprisoned. The end of apartheid didn’t slow her down. She continued campaigning for issues she strongly believed in, like supporting the Zimbabwean ‘war veterans’ taking over white farms.

Leaders from all over the world poured out their tributes for the ‘Mother of the Nation’:

“We mourn the passing of this great patriot and Pan Africanist, whose resilience and courage inspired freedom struggles not only in South Africa, but across Africa and her diaspora. Comrade Madikizela-Mandela dedicated her life to the betterment of her people and she worked for this realisation right until the end of her life.”- Ace Magashule, Secretary General of African National Congress.

“The entire @_AfricanUnion family joins the Continent and beyond in grief at the passing of Ma Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who will forever be remembered as a global icon, a fearless campaigner who sacrificed much of her life for freedom in South Africa and for women everywhere.”- Moussa Faki Mahama, African Union commission head.

“She was a woman of uncommon determination, steadfastness and perseverance who held aloft the torch of the struggle against institutionalised discrimination even while her ex-husband, the late Madiba, President Nelson Mandela was incarcerated… she remained a pride not only to the African woman, but indeed all Africans.”- Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria.

Fare thee well, Winnie.


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