Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (1936-2018) may have been famous around the world as Nelson Mandela’s former wife, but in her own country, South Africa, she was known as the “Mother of the Nation”. She died on April 2 at the age of 81, after having dedicated most of her life to fighting apartheid and struggling for equality and liberation in South Africa.
Winnie was a fierce, strong woman who, along with Mandela, was a symbol of the country’s anti-apartheid struggle for three decades. Some called her the “voice of defiance” against white-minority rule, while Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu said she was a “defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid.”
Born in 1936 in the Transkei, now known as Eastern Cape, Winnie moved to Johannesburg in 1953 to study social work, which was where she met Mandela. They got married the same year and stayed married for 38 years, 27 of which Nelson Mandela spent in jail.
Winnie, however, took over the baton in this time and became an aggressive opponent of the racial segregation system and, consequently, a powerful symbol of the resistance to apartheid.
The video above, from the 1980s, shows the ferocity and passion with which she championed her cause. An interview (below) that was shot in 1983 during the time Mandela was imprisoned shows her persistence even when she was living in exile.
Winnie campaigned against apartheid for the entirety of Mandela’s incarceration, in spite of being exiled and imprisoned herself. A 1986 documentary (video below) offers a comprehensive look at the situation at the time, along with a compilation of interviews.
In 1990, Mandela was released from prison and the iconic shot of him walking out of prison with Winnie is captured in the video below. It was a deeply profound moment in history.
Two years later, Mandela and Winnie announced their separation.
Winnie was elected President of the African National Congress Women’s League in 1993 and appointed Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture under Mandela’s presidency after the first democratic election in 1994. However, she was dismissed for insubordination and, in later years, Winnie’s reputation suffered greatly from legal and political charges against her.
Regardless, Winnie remains to this day an unflinching symbol of justice and equality and, most importantly, an evergreen figure of women empowerment.