Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 5 News List

S Africa’s Winnie Mandela dies at 81

‘COURAGEOUS DEFIANCE’:South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described the firebrand activist as ‘an abiding symbol of the desire of our people to be free’


African National Congress supporters gather outside of the house of the late Winnie Mandela, the estranged wife of late South African president Nelson Mandela, in Soweto, South Africa, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Winnie Mandela, the former wife of late South African president Nelson Mandela, died on Monday aged 81, triggering an outpouring of tributes to one of the nation’s defining and most divisive figures.

The firebrand activist died in a Johannesburg hospital, her family said, adding that she had “fought valiantly against the apartheid state” and that she was known “far and wide as the mother of the nation.”

Winnie Mandela, who was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, played a high-profile role in the struggle to end white-minority rule, but her place in history was stained by controversy and accusations of violence.

Leading the tributes, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu described her as “a defining symbol” of the battle against oppression.

“She refused to be bowed by the imprisonment of her husband, the perpetual harassment of her family by security forces, detentions, bannings and banishment,” Tutu said. “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me and to generations of activists.”

The statement from her family said that she passed away at the Netcare Milpark hospital in Johannesburg.

“She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year. She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones,” it added.

African National Congress (ANC) head of policy Jeff Radebe described her as “an icon of the revolutionary struggle.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday announced that a “national official funeral” would be held on Saturday next week, preceded by a public memorial service on Wednesday next week.

Most of Winnie Mandela’s marriage to Nelson was spent apart, with her husband imprisoned for 27 years, leaving her to raise their two daughters alone and to keep alive his political dream under the repressive white-minority regime, but her reputation came under damaging scrutiny in the twilight years of apartheid rule.

In 1986, she was widely linked to “necklacing,” when suspected traitors were burnt alive by a gasoline-soaked car tire being put over their head and set alight.

In 1990, the world watched when Nelson Mandela finally walked out of prison — hand in hand with his wife.

The following year, she was convicted of kidnapping and assault over the killing of Stompie Moeketsi, a 14-year-old boy.

In 1992, the Mandelas separated and then divorced in 1996, after a legal wrangle that revealed she had an affair with a young bodyguard.

During her old age, she re-emerged as a respected elder who was feted as a living reminder of the late Nelson Mandela — and of the long and much-storied struggle against apartheid.

Just last month, she was shown in TV footage joking with Ramaphosa, who paid a courtesy call to her home in Soweto, the township where she lived for decades.

Dressed in full ANC colors of yellow, black and green, she asked Ramaphosa, who is known for his morning runs: “Why don’t you get tired?”

“We can’t get tired when you have given us work to do,” Ramaphosa replied.

After Winnie Mandela’s death was announced, Ramaphosa described her as “a voice of defiance and resistance” who “was an abiding symbol of the desire of our people to be free.”

“For many years, she bore the brunt of senseless brutality of the apartheid state with stoicism,” the president said.

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