Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, known as “a defining symbol” to the end of white-minority rule in South Africa while her husband, former South African President Nelson Mandela was jailed for treason, passed away on Monday at the age of 81.
Madikizela-Mandela who died in Johannesburg had suffered a long illness that kept her in and out of the hospital since the start of the year, according to a family spokesman, though the cause of death or nature of her illness was not disclosed, Reuters reported.
Prior to her demise, Winnie Mandela had her heroic reputation tarnished with the allegations of gross violations of human rights, fraud conviction and the number of actions carried out by members of her security team, known as the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC). Some of the operations carried out by the Club include the kidnapping, torture, and murder of individuals.
In 1991, she was acquitted of all but the abduction of the teenager Stompie Seipei –an anti-apartheid activist who was later stabbed to death. This saw her initial six-year jail term reduced to a fine and suspended sentence on appeal.
“Ms Winnie Madikizela Mandela is politically and morally accountable for the gross violations of human rights committed by the MUFC” and she “was responsible, by omission, for the commission of gross violations of human rights,” the final report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, issued in 1998 said.
Winnie Mandela was also convicted on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft in 2003 and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Notably, the politician was convicted of the illegal obtainment of bank loans in fake names of employees under the African National Congress Women’s League when she was its president.
However, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela “leaves a huge legacy and, as we say in African culture, a gigantic tree has fallen,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa, while speaking at her house in Soweto where he was visiting the family of the deceased.
Citing her contributions and significance to the South African nation, Ramaphosa noted that “She has been one of the strongest women in our struggle, who suffered immensely under the apartheid regime, who was imprisoned, who was banished, who was treated very badly,” adding that South Africans had lost “a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a comrade, a leader and an icon.”
In the same light, the retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu while paying tribute to Winnie said: “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.”
Also offering his condolences from abroad, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres through a U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric noted that “Winnie Madikizela Mandela, a leading figure at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, was a strong and fearless voice in the struggle for equal rights and will be remembered as a symbol of resistance.”
The South African government has declared an official memorial service to be held for Madikizela-Mandela on April 11 and a national funeral on April 14.