Winnie Mandela, the former wife of South African anti -apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, died on Monday aged 81 , triggering an outpouring of tributes to one of the country ’s defining and most divisive figures .
She died in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness , family spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement .
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.
It is with profound sadness that we inform the public that Mrs Winnie Madikizela- Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital , Johannesburg , South Africa on Monday ,” said a statement issued by her family.
“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.”
Leading the tributes , anti- apartheid campaigner and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu described Winnie Mandela as “a defining symbol” of the struggle 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,” he said .
“Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me , and to generations of activists. ”
In the ruling African National Congress ( ANC) , head of policy Jeff Radebe described her as “an icon of the revolutionary struggle . ”
– Lives apart –
Most of Winnie’s marriage to Nelson was spent apart , with Nelson 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 petrol – soaked car tyre 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 Winnie .
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 had an affair with a young bodyguard .
During her old age , she re – emerged as a “mother of the nation ” figure who was feted as a living reminder of the late Mandela and of the long struggle against apartheid .
Just last month, she was shown in television footage joking with Cyril Ramaphosa , the newly -appointed president who paid a courtesy call at her home in Soweto , the township where she lived for decades.
Dressed in full ANC colours 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 said , paying fulsome praise to her appearance .
She had also expressed support for the current leadership of the ANC ( African National Congress ) party — which her husband led to power in the euphoric post- apartheid elections of 1994 .