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Winnie Mandela, Anti-Apartheid Activist, Dies at 81

She was a highly respected figure in a country which lauded her efforts for fighting against the tyranny of white minority rule back in the 20th century.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, has died. She was 81.

According to a  statement released by her family,  she passed away in Johannesburg, at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, South Africa after battling a long illness which had seen her getting in and out of the hospital since January this year.

Known as the “Mother of the Nation’’, it was Winnie Mandela who stood alongside Nelson Mandela in the duo’s struggle against the tyranny of white rule in a black majority South Africa.

She remained married to Nelson Mandela for 37 years, with Mandela spending 28 of those years behind bars on an Island next to Cape Town.

Born in a village near Eastern Cape on September 26, 1936, Winnie moved to Johannesburg in 1953 to study social work. It was there, in 1958, that she met Mandela.

The pair married the same year, with their marriage lasting 28-year-period between 1962 and 1990, the time Nelson Mandela spent behind bars.

Due to her fierce struggle against and her vocal criticism of apartheid, Winnie was arrested in the year 1969.

Her role in Soweto Uprising

Soweto Uprising took place in South Africa in 1976 when scores of black students came out on the street protesting a government decree which forced all the colored schools to use English and Afrikaans as languages of instruction.

It was during this struggle that Winnie Mandela made her name. She was at the forefront of this struggle, often taking the stage to voice her views against the Government and its apartheid policies

That said, her reputation suffered a dent in 1991 when she was arrested and convicted of a 1991 kidnapping and killing of a 14-year-old suspected spy by her bodyguards.

She was handed a six-year imprisonment sentence at the conclusion of the case, though it was later reduced to a fine.

Shrugging off the controversy, Madikizela-Mandela was elected president of the women league of ANC in 1993. In 1994, as Nelson Mandela became President, Winnie became a member of the parliament and was later promoted to become the deputy arts and science minister of South Africa.

Even during her days in the cabinet, she didn’t hold back from attacking the government on policies which she thought were against the goodwill of common man.

So furious were her attacks that only a year after she became a minister in the first-ever multi-racial government of South Africa, Nelson Mandela expelled her from his cabinet.

In 1999, she was elected for another parliamentary term. However, she had to resign in 2003 after being again convicted by a court of law for fraudulently taking bank loans – though she used the loans to help poor people.

The conviction was overturned a year later after it was proved that she had not used the loans for any personal gain.

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