In Depth

Winnie Mandela, South African anti-apartheid activist, dies at 81

Archbishop Desmond Tutu leads tributes to one-time political prisoner and former wife of Nelson Mandela

South African freedom fighter Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died in Johannesburg after a lengthy illness.

The 81-year-old political activist and former wife of Nelson Mandela, who became an international symbol of the fight against apartheid, died in hospital on Monday surrounded by family.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu led the tributes to the African National Congress stalwart, who was tortured and imprisoned by security forces for campaigning for the rights of black South Africans.

“Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me and to generations of activists,” he said. “May she rest in peace and rise in glory.”

Known as the Mother of the Nation, Madikizela-Mandela was a powerful but deeply divisive figure who left a complex legacy, South Africa’s Daily Maverick reports.

Her political work has been overshadowed by accusations of murder, kidnapping and corruption.

In 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping teenage activist Stompie Moeketsi, who was killed by her personal bodyguards, a deadly vigilante group known as the Mandela United Football Club.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with investigating Apartheid-era crimes, found her guilty of committing “gross violations of human rights” during the liberation struggle.

Madikizela-Mandela was known to have opposed the reconciliatory approach assumed by Mandela and Tutu after apartheid, the Mail and Guardian reports.

“Her decreasing tolerance for the reconciliation project culminated in her dismissal from cabinet in 1995 for allegedly defying presidential orders and sowing divisions through her constant criticism of government,” it adds.

Madikizela-Mandela showed little remorse for her actions. “I am not sorry,” she said in a 2010 interview. “I will never be sorry. I would do everything I did again if I had to. Everything.”

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