Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the anti-apartheid campaigner, will be honoured with a state funeral later this month, South Africa’s president has said.
Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement on Monday evening after paying a condolence visit to Madikizela-Mandela’s home in Johannesburg’s Soweto township.
The funeral will be on 14 April, with an official memorial service three days earlier.
In a televised tribute, Ramaphosa called Madikizela-Mandela a “champion of justice and equality” whose “dedication to the plight of her people gained her the love and the respect of the nation”.
“For many years‚ she bore the brunt of the senseless brutality of the apartheid state with stoicism and fortitude,” he said. “Despite the hardship she faced‚ she never doubted that the struggle for freedom and democracy would triumph and succeed.
“She remained throughout her life a tireless advocate for the dispossessed and the marginalised. She was the voice for the voiceless.”
Known as Mama Winnie, and “mother of the nation”, the former wife of Nelson Mandela died on Monday aged 81 following a “long illness”, her family said.
During her nearly 38-year marriage to Mandela, she fought against white-majority rule even as she vowed to escape the shadow of the great man.
But she would also become engulfed in criminal convictions and scandals.
Over the years, Madikizela-Mandela became a symbol of the suffering caused by South Africa’s system of white minority rule known as apartheid and became a force against it, ultimately serving as a member of parliament.
She and her husband began a family before Mandela went underground and then was imprisoned for 27 years. Left with two young daughters, Madikizela-Mandela was persecuted by police and banished to a remote town where neighbours were forbidden to speak with her.
As Mandela emerged from prison seeking reconciliation and forgiveness, Madikizela-Mandela wanted the perpetrators of apartheid punished.
“What brutalized me so much was that I knew what it is to hate,” she once said in a South African television interview.
Madikizela-Mandela’s story grabbed the imagination of people around the world. It has been told in books as well as the Hollywood movie “Winnie”, starring Oscar-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson.
The young Winnie grew up in what is now Eastern Cape province and came to Johannesburg as the city’s first black female social worker. Her research into the high infant mortality rate in a black township, which she linked to poverty caused by racism, first sparked her interest in politics.
“I started to realize the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, the appalling conditions created by the inequalities of the system,” she said.
In 1957, she met Mandela, a rising lawyer and anti-apartheid activist 18 years her senior, and they married a year later following his divorce from his first wife.
The first five turbulent years of their marriage saw Mandela going underground to build the armed struggle against apartheid, and finally to prison in 1963, while his wife gave birth to two daughters.
“The wife of a freedom fighter is often like a widow, even when her husband is not in prison,” Mandela wrote. But he added: “Winnie gave me cause for hope. I felt as though I had a new and second chance at life. My love for her gave me the added strength for the struggles that lay ahead.”
Madikizela-Mandela always was aware of the danger of being overshadowed by her husband’s all-encompassing personality, and she vowed not to lose herself.
Even before they were separated by Mandela’s long stay in prison, she had become politicized, being jailed for two weeks while pregnant for participating in a women’s protest against apartheid restrictions on blacks.
The apartheid police later harassed her, sometimes dragging her from bed at night without giving her a chance to make arrangements for her daughters.
Madikizela-Mandela complained bitterly on a North American tour after she was forced to testify to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 that the commission never asked her about the treatment she suffered over 18 months in solitary confinement.
In 1977, she was banished to a remote town, Brandfort, where neighbours were forbidden to speak to her. She was banned from meeting with more than one person at a time.
The woman who returned to Johannesburg in 1985 was much harder, more ruthless and bellicose, branded by the cruelty of apartheid and determined vengeance.
In her book, 100 Years of Struggle: Mandela’s ANC, Heidi Holland suggested that Madikizela-Mandela was “perhaps driven half-mad by security police harassment”. In an infamous 1986 speech she threatened “no more peaceful protests”.
Instead, she endorsed the “necklacing” method of killing suspected informers and police with fuel-doused tyres put around the neck and set alight.
“Together hand-in-hand, with our boxes of matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country,” she said.
At the time, the African National Congress party and its army of guerrilla fighters were riddled with spies and informers, some willing, others tortured into submission.
Still harassed by police, Madikizela-Mandela gathered a group of young men known as the Mandela United Football Club, who lived on her property.
But they turned into thugs who so terrorized the black township of Soweto that people set ablaze Madikizela-Mandela’s home there, according to an autobiography by ANC veteran Amina Cachalia and other accounts.
Her bodyguards were accused of the disappearances and killings of at least 18 boys and young men. In the most infamous case, her bodyguards in 1989 kidnapped four boys including 14-year-old James Stompie Seipei Moeketsi.
He was accused of being a police informer, badly beaten and his throat slit. In 1991, Madikizela-Mandela was charged with Moeketsi’s killing. A court found her guilty of his kidnapping and assault and sentenced her to six years in jail.
She appealed and was found guilty of being an accessory in the assault, and the sentence was reduced to a fine and a suspended prison term. Madikizela-Mandela steadfastly denied any knowledge of any killings, leading the judge in that case to brand her “an unblushing liar”.
The newly freed Mandela stood by his wife, urging friends to come to court to show their support, according to Cachalia in her autobiography When Hope and History Rhyme. The marriage that survived decades of prison bars dissolved with a formal separation in 1992, two years after Mandela’s release.
The couple divorced in 1996, two years after Mandela became president in South Africa’s first all-race elections. He accused his wife of infidelity.
She kept his name, adding her maiden name. In 2003, Madikizela-Mandela was convicted on fraud and theft charges and sentenced to five years in jail, though she ended up serving no time.
The conviction appeared to end her career. She quit Parliament and resigned from her posts as president of the ANC Woman’s League and a member of the party’s executive committee, but her base of support, mostly downtrodden black women and youths, remained loyal. In 2009, months before general elections, ANC members made her No 5 on their election list, a measure of her enduring popularity.
She remained outspoken and joined the rising anger against then-president Jacob Zuma over multiple scandals that hurt the reputation of the ANC, calling with other long time party veterans for his departure. Zuma resigned in February.
As the mother of two of Mandela’s children, Madikizela-Mandela and her ex-husband appeared to rebuild a friendship in his final years. It was not unusual to see him at public events with her on one side and his third wife, Graca Machel, on the other. Madikizela-Mandela later became embroiled in disputes over Mandela’s estate.
George Bizos, a human rights lawyer who represented Mandela at the 1960s trial that led to his long imprisonment, recalled how the marriage broke down.
“Nelson Mandela called two other senior members of the ANC after his release and he actually said, ‘I love her, we have differences, I don’t want to discuss them, please respect her,’” Bizos said. “And he shed tears to say that ‘we have decided to separate’. He loved her to the end.”