Scores of South Africans have been thrown into a state of mourning following the announcement of the death of relentless anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Revered for being the ‘mother of the nation’, Winnie who cut a divisive figure during her time also had a fair share of controversies as she was caught up in many slimy situations over the years.
A prominent figure in the history of South African politics, Winnie’s role during the long struggle to end apartheid saw her being thrust into the spotlight in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s life sentence as she carried the heavy burden of continuing her husband’s legacy.
However, after 38-year of marriage which saw her come under the scrutinizing gaze of the ever-present public eye her marriage to Nelson crashed two years into her husbands presidency, but she continued to visit her husband daily.
Just in case you think you know her very well, listed below are 10 interesting facts about Winnie whose victories and missteps were there for all to see.
1. Her mother, Nomathamsanqa Mzaidume (Gertrude ), died when she was only nine years old: Mama Winnie’s parents were both teachers. Her dad, Columbus, was a history teacher and headmaster, and her mother taught domestic science. Gertrude’s death resulted in the break-up of her family, as she and her eight siblings were afterwards all sent to live with different relatives.
2. She was head girl in high school: Madizikela-Mandela was born Nomzamo in a village in Pondoland in the Eastern Cape. She attended primary school in Bizana and matriculated at Shawbury High School, where she distinguished herself as a person with exceptional leadership qualities.
3. She lost a job she really needed because of her activism as a member of the ANC: Winnie took a position at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto after she graduated from Jan Hofmeyer School of Social Work of Johannesburg, where she moved after high school. In doing so she became the first black medical social worker in the country. But she lost her job after she and thousands of other women were arrested in 1985, for demonstrating against the government’s laws.
4. Authorities outlawed traditional tribal dress she wore to Nelson Mandela’s treason trial: Madizikela-Mandela and other female companions of the men on trial appeared at the courthouse in traditional tribal dress, hoping to inspire people and evoke a sense of militancy against the oppressive white government. Authorities went on to outlaw the dress, but she retaliated by defiantly wearing the ANC’s gold, green, and black colours.
5. All she had in her cell during a 17 month detention was a sanitary bucket, a plastic bottle with water for about three glasses of water, and a mug: Winnie spent most of this lengthy imprisonment in solitary confinement. She described this difficult time in her book, ‘Part of My Soul Went with Him’, where she wrote: “Those first few days are the worst in anyone’s life—that uncertainty, that insecurity. The whole thing is calculated to destroy you. You are not in touch with anybody.”
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6. She helped organise the Black Women’s Federation and the Black Parents’ Association: The latter association was founded to assist people with medical and legal problems caused by the actions of police during the 1976 Soweto riot.
7. She used her contacts and training to provide much-needed assistance to the local black community while she was confined to the small Free State town of Brandfort: Madizikela-Mandela helped the community to establish a nursery school or creche, a soup kitchen for school children, and a mobile health unit, and she initiated self-help projects that ranged from growing vegetables, to knitting clothes, to sewing school uniforms.
8. She publicly interrupted a speech by former President Thabo Mbeki, whose regime she vocally criticised: In a highly publicized incident, Winnie appeared at one of Mbeki’s rallies and interrupted his speech, appearing on stage to the cheers of the crowd. When she stooped to kiss his cheek, he raised his hand to push her away, knocking the hat off her head. But to the crowd, it looked like he pushed her.
9. A newspaper in 1992 published a love letter she allegedly wrote to Dali Mpofu, with who she is said to have had an affair: It’s believed that Winnie was having an affair with Mpofu, a lawyer 30 years her junior, in the months before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. She is said to have continued the affair after her husband left prison, and this affair is often cited as the reason for her divorce.
10. She has a great love for gardening: Speaking at a dinner to celebrate Madikizela-Mandela’s 80th birthday, her daughter Zindzi shared some personal qualities and characteristics of her mother that not many people know about. Zindzi said Winnie loves shopping, hoarding, and spending time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Her death was announced by her personal assistant Zodwa Swane who revealed that an official statement would be released very soon.
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