Official memorial service to be held for Winnie Mandela

South African anti-apartheid campaigner died aged 81 after a long illness

As the country continued to mourn on Tuesday (April 3) the passing of African National Congress (ANC) liberation fighter Winnie Mandela, Cape Town residents expressed their grief saying she was a fighter who will be greatly missed.


An official memorial service will be held in South Africa for anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela on April 11th followed by a national funeral on April 14th, the South African president has said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described Mandela as “one of the strongest women in our struggle, who suffered immensely under the apartheid regime, who was imprisoned, who was banished, who was treated very badly”.

The 81-year-old died following a long illness that had left her hospitalised on and off since the beginning of the year.

Former wife of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically-elected black president, she died peacefully surrounded by loved ones in the early hours of Monday afternoon in Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, her family said.

“Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid. She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country.”

The family went on to say: “She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognisable faces.

“The Mandela family are deeply grateful for the gift of her life and even as our hearts break at her passing, we urge all those who loved her to celebrate this most remarkable woman,” the statement concluded.


Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was seen as a champion of South Africa’s oppressed people during the fight against apartheid, especially after Mr Mandela – the leader of the then banned African National Congress (ANC) party – was sent to prison for life in 1964 for treason.

She was born in Bizana in the Eastern Cape in 1936 and moved to Johannesburg to study social work after finishing secondary school.

She married Mr Mandela, who she met when she was 22 at a bus stop in Johannesburg, in 1958. But he was forced to flee the family home and go underground shortly afterwards, in order to escape the apartheid authorities.

Retired archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu called her a “defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid”, shortly after the news of her death was made public. “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists,” he said in a statement.

Mother figure

Mr Ramaphosa said Mrs Madikizela-Mandela’s death meant that the country had lost a mother figure, leader and icon.

“Even in the deepest moments of our struggle for liberation Mam Winnie was an abiding symbol of our people to be free. In the midst of repression she was the voice defiance and resistance,” he said.

In the years that followed her husband’s imprisonment, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was tortured and subjected to repeated stints of house arrest by the apartheid government.

As the years passed the state’s ongoing harassment of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela made her into a globally recognisable figure for the anti-apartheid movement, which was seeking international attention and support for its cause.

She was eventually banished to Brandfort, a deeply rural town in the Free State province, in 1977 by the authorities who were trying to dilute her influence on South Africa’s restless black youth residing in the townships.

But she openly defied these banning orders on a number of occasions and moved around the country to meet with anti-apartheid colleagues in the ANC as well as those from other movements.

Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was famously pictured hand-in-hand with the now deceased Mr Mandela as he walked free from prison outside of Cape Town in 1990 after 27 years in jail. However, within two years of his release the pair had separated.

Irreconcilable differences

In 1996, after 38 years of marriage, the couple divorced due to irreconcilable differences that many people suspect were linked to allegations of adultery that were made against Mrs Madikizela-Mandela.

While many South Africans view her as “the mother of the nation”, her past was littered with controversies that have tarnished her image and reduced her ability to sway political events in South Africa in her preferred direction.

She became a public relations disaster for South Africa’s mass democratic movement in the 1980s for approving of brutal acts such as “necklacing” against police informers. The form of torture involved forcing a petrol-filled rubber tyre around a person’s chest and arms and then setting it on fire.

In 1991 Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of being behind the kidnapping, assault and killing of a 14-year-old teenager called Stompie Moeketsi.

The boy was suspected of being a police informer and was abducted and murdered by members of the infamous Mandela United Football Club, who were known to be her bodyguards.


Her jail sentence was subsequently reduced to a fine, and she denied involvement in any murders when she appeared before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission was set up by the transitional government in the mid-1990s to help victims of apartheid to deal with the atrocities that were committed against them and their family members.

Despite her difficult relationship with Mr Mandela, he made her deputy minister of arts and culture in the first democratically-elected post-apartheid government in 1994. However, he eventually fired her after she took an unauthorised trip abroad that was paid for by government.

Mrs Madikizela-Mandela remained an ANC MP for the rest of her life, although in recent years she was rarely seen in parliament.

She is survived by the two children she had with Mr Mandela, Zenani and Zindziwa, as well as a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.