By Stacy M. Brown
(NNPA Newswire Contributor)
South Africa’s “Mother of the Nation” an anti-Apartheid crusader Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died, her family confirmed in a statement on Monday, April 2.
The ex-wife of the late Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela was 81.
In a statement, her family said Mandela “died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year.”
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of…Winnie Mandela,” California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters said in a statement to NNPA Newswire.
“In conjunction with the African National Congress and leaders around the world, she courageously led the efforts to fight for his freedom and end Apartheid in South Africa and, in addition to her activism that inspired and motivated the international community to join the struggle to end apartheid, she especially empowered and galvanized women to rise up and speak out against the abuses of the apartheid regime in South Africa,” Waters said.
The congresswoman noted that Mandela popularized the statement, “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock,” which Waters said indicated that women were firmly planted in their efforts to end Apartheid and became an international slogan for the strength and fortitude of women who could not, and would not, be moved.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu released a statement praising Winnie Mandela.
“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.”
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, also offered condolences.
“The NNPA extends heartfelt condolences to the family of Winnie Mandela whose irrepressible freedom-fighting spirit lives on in the hearts and souls of millions of people throughout the world who cry out for freedom,” Chavis said.
Actor Idris Elba, who portrayed Nelson Mandela in the celebrated 2013 movie, “Long Walk to Freedom,” said his heart was heavy at hearing the news about Winnie Mandela.
“Rest in peace Mama Winnie,” Elba tweeted. “You lived a full and important life contributing to the liberation of a nation by force and actual activism. You will never be forgotten.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., a renowned civil rights leader himself, also paused to remember Mandela.
“In the darkest hours of the struggle to free South Africa, with Nelson Mandela in prison, the face of hope and courage was Winnie Mandela,” Jackson said.
“May she forever rest in power,” he said.
Born, Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela on September 26, 1936, Winnie Mandela reportedly had her first conscious experience at the age of 9 when she realized what the strictures and injustices of racism and Apartheid meant in South Africa.
News had just arrived in Bizana that the World War II had ended, and celebrations had been scheduled. Along with her siblings, Winnie begged their father to attend, and eventually he acquiesced to their demand.
However, upon arriving at the town hall, it was discovered that these celebrations were “for Whites only” and the children were forced to remain outside with their father while the White population enjoyed the merriment within, according to her biography.
She completed her degree in social work in 1955, finishing at the top of her class, and was offered a scholarship for further study in the United States, but decided to remain in Johannesburg.
She was 22 when she met Nelson Mandela, and he was sixteen years her senior. He was already a famous anti-Apartheid figure and one of the key defendants in the Treason Trial, which had commenced in 1956.
The two became engaged in May 1958 and, despite government restrictions, were married in June in Bizana.
The couple divorced in 1996 and Winnie Mandela eventually went from hero to convict when she was found guilty on 43 counts of fraud and 25 counts of theft in charges that alleged she took money from loan applicants accounts for a funeral fund.
Sentenced to five years in prison, she resigned from all leadership positions in the African National Congress.
Later, during an appeal, a judge ruled that the crimes were not committed for personal gain and overturned most of the convictions, which netted Mandela a suspended jail sentence.
Despite those blemishes, Winnie Mandela remained a hero. Alfre Woodard, Sophie Okonedo and Jennifer Hudson all portrayed Winnie Mandela in films.
“I will forever cherish the time that I spent with Winnie Mandela, both in South Africa and in the United States,” Waters said.
“In 1990, when Winnie Mandela accompanied her then-husband Nelson Mandela to Los Angeles following his release from prison, I chaired the Los Angles welcome committee, and I helped organize a concert and rally that filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to capacity.”
Waters continued: “I will never forget the roar of the more than 90,000 people gathered when Nelson and Winnie Mandela appeared on stage.”