Tributes paid to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

South Africa to give anti-apartheid icon and ex-wife of late Nelson Mandela a state funeral

Leaders from across South Africa’s political divide have travelled to the home of the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to mourn her sudden death and pay tribute to the anti-apartheid icon’s life of activism.

On Tuesday Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema described Madikizela-Mandela – who died on Monday aged 81 – as "a real giant" of the fight against apartheid, after visiting her family in Soweto, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

In recent years, Mr Malema, a former African National Congress (ANC) youth league leader, was often seen with Madikizela-Mandela, even after he was expelled from the governing party in 2012.

“She died a leader of our nation, she died with her integrity intact,” Mr Malema told reporters before adding: “Even when she was in isolation, she never befriended the enemy [members of the apartheid regime]”.


Other political leaders and dignitaries who travelled to Soweto to pay their respects included former South African and ANC president Thabo Mbeki and the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane.

A family statement released on Monday afternoon said Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the late president Nelson Mandela, died unexpectedly in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness.

Only days before her demise she appeared in good spirits, attending a Good Friday service with her granddaughter Zoleka, who posted pictures of them on the social media platform Instagram.

Racist regime

A divisive figure because of her militant approach to opposing apartheid, she was also lauded around the world for her dedication to fighting the racist regime while her husband languished in jail.

Over three decades she was repeatedly harassed, banned, arrested, and detained in solitary confinement by the apartheid state, but she refused to be silenced.

But she was also accused of sanctioning the killing of a number of people accused of being police informers during the 1980s, which has tarnished her image.

Her 38-year marriage to Nelson Mandela ended in divorce in 1996, six years after he had been released from prison.

After visiting Madikizela-Mandela’s family on Tuesday morning, minister of arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa said South Africans had a right to judge her, but that in his view her weaknesses were surpassed by her dedication to freedom.

“What trumped everything with Mama Winnie is the fact that she was rooted among her people. She fought for the liberation of this country and this country was liberated in 1994 thanks to her effort, thanks to her courage,” he said.

Indeed, since the news of her death has emerged, millions of South Africans have reflected on the massive role Madikizela-Mandela played in the liberation of the country. And for the most part, she is being remembered positively.

The South African government has announced that arrangements are under way to give Madikizela-Mandela a state funeral on April 14th.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa