Yesterday, the 2nd of April, our worlds were rocked when it was announced that Winnifred Madikizela Mandela had passed on at noon. It had been shared by South African media that she had been battling health issues since the beginning of the year. Her PA, Zodwa Zane confirmed her death at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in South Africa’s metropolitan city of Johannesburg.

At the age of 81, suffice to say that with all her accomplishments, Ma’am winnie as she was fondly called, lived an full life. It wasn’t the way she lived but the lives that she touched that makes her legacy ever-present despite her demise. As the world mourns her loss, we would like to remember her achievements and note some interesting facts about the anti-apartheid activist enumerated below.


Her name foretold a life of struggle

Born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela, she sure lived up to her first name, Nomzamo which meant: ‘the one who has to undergo trials’. From her marriage to South Africa’s most popular activist, Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for nearly a quarter of a century (27 years) to becoming politicized after she had been jailed for 2 months while pregnant, to being sometimes dragged from bed at night without giving her a chance to make arrangements for her daughters; Winnie’s life was one rife with struggles. Still, she never stopped. Her fight against apartheid was as strong as if she had not had to face any opposition.

“The wife of a freedom fighter is often like a widow, even when her husband is not in prison,”

In 1977, she was banished to a remote town, Brandfort, where neighbors were forbidden to speak to her. She was banned from meeting with more than one person at a time and for 18 months she was sentenced to solitary confinement which many have mentioned drove her half mad.

The woman who returned to Johannesburg in 1985 was much harder, more ruthless and bellicose, branded by the cruelty of apartheid and determined vengeance.


She was known to speak up against patriarchy

Despite being married to Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Nelson Mandela. Winnie Mandela was bent on making a name for herself. Acclaimed as the mother of the nation, she earned the name due to her service to her country which wasn’t always devoid of controversy.

The overwhelming majority of women accept the patriarchy and protect it. Traditionally, the violated wife offloads her aggression onto the daughter-in-law. Men dominate women through the agency of women themselves.

Despite her dislike for patriarchy, her love for women was stronger. Winnie was very active once led the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s league at its most active period. After her leadership, it was reported that the league wasn’t as active anymore.


She was South Africa’s first black Social worker

n 1953 she was admitted to the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work and left the Transkei to reside at the American Board Mission’s Helping Hand Hostel for women in central Johannesburg. When she completed her degree in 1955 she was the first black professional social worker in South Africa. Her intelligence bagged her a scholarship to the United States of America which she declined to take up work at a local hospital that catered to women in South Africa .

Despite her overwhelming challenges, Winnie always found a way.

In 1965, a new and more severe banning order was handed to Winnie. Previously, her banning order had limited her movements from ‘dusk to dawn’ but her new banning order barred her from moving anywhere other than her neighbourhood of Orlando West. This had several ramifications, including the necessity for her to give up her job as a social worker. Subsequently, she was hounded out of job after job with the police approaching anyone bold enough to give her employment be it a dry cleaning temp or a clerkship, and insist that by some mechanism they fire her.[xvii] Due to her continued struggles and that of finding her daughters a school, Winnie eventually sent them away to Swazilandand with the help of Lady Birley (wife of Sir Robert Birley, an ex-headmaster of Eton College) and Helen Joseph, she was able to enrol them at a private school in the neighbouring country.

Sahistory reports that amidst her over-powering obstacles, Winnie continued to keep active. From her highly restricted position, she organised assistance for political prisoners. On the night of 12 May 1969 Winnie awoke to the familiar sounds of a police raid. Her children were home for the school holidays and the police made a particularly thorough investigation of everything in the house. After ransacking the property, they tore Winnie away from her daughters and bundled her into a police van. She had just fallen foul of Prime Minister John Vorster’s1967 Terrorism Act, No 83, which allowed the arrest of anyone perceived to be endangering the maintenance of law and order. It stipulated that anyone could be arrested without warrant, detained for an indefinite period of time, interrogated and kept in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or a relative.



During her old age, she re-emerged as a respected elder who was honoured as a living reminder of the late Mandela’s legacy — and of the long and celebrated struggle against apartheid. Today, she is recognised as one of the fiercest women to ever live. Through her mistakes, yes, there were several, she forged ahead with one goal in mind-the freedom of black people and even when black people were the source of the problem, she was quick to express her displeasure.

Her unabashed honesty and fearlessness are characteristic of a warrior. That, she definitely was until the very end.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that a memorial service would be held on Wednesday, April 11 with a full state funeral on Saturday, April 14.



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