The Guardian

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela obituary

South African activist, ANC politician and wife of Nelson Mandela whose reputation became mired in allegations of murder and fraud

Rarely can there have been someone who was called to greatness and yet failed that calling as decisively as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who has died aged 81 after a long illness. In Harlem they called her “the Queen of Africa”, in South Africa “the Mother of the Nation”. In the end she was neither, her reputation irrevocably mired in murder and fraud.

The main part of her story unfolded over nearly four decades of marriage to Nelson Mandela, during much of which he was imprisoned along with other leaders of the African National Congress. She remained active in the freedom struggle, though subject to persecution and shorter periods of imprisonment. When Nelson was released in 1990, she was by his side, but her actions before then, and her inability to establish a sound political role after his election as president in 1994, left her a marginalised figure despite her great personal following.

Born in the famously rebellious district of Pondoland in the Eastern Cape, Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was one of nine children – six of them daughters – of two teachers and devout Methodists, Columbus Madikizela and his wife, Gertrude.

Winnie’s biographer Emma Gilbey (The Lady: Life and Times of, 1993) records that she was a rebel in her own right from an early age. By ancestry and circumstance she was an explosive mixture. Her mother, who had red hair, blue eyes and “very pale skin”, seems to have been of mixed race and suffered for it at the hands of her mother-in-law, who tormented Gertrude as a , a white person.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Guardian

The Guardian4 min readFood & Wine
Jonathan Safran Foer: I’ve Got No Beef With His Plan To Save The Planet | Rebecca Nicholson
Jonathan Safran Foer published Eating Animals in 2009. I didn’t read it until 2015, because I had a feeling that it would be persuasive and I would have to stop eating meat, which I found delicious, especially buttery, white-bread ham sandwiches and
The Guardian3 min read
What I Learned From My Year Of Reading Outside The Box | Afua Hirsch
As a Booker prize judge, I encountered stories I would never have consciously sought out, and it was wonderful
The Guardian4 min read
I Was Proud My Literature Award. Then Came The Talk Of ‘Box-ticking’ | Chitra Ramaswamy
It’s clear that the publishing world needs more diversity. Why do some see this as compromising quality?