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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Mother of the Nation
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Winnie Mandela 190814.jpg
First Lady of South Africa
In role
President Nelson Mandela
Preceded by Marike de Klerk
Succeeded by Graça Machel
Member of South African Parliament
Assumed office
May 2009
Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
In office
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Pallo Jordan
Derek Hanekom
Personal details
Born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela
(1936-09-26) 26 September 1936 (age 81)
Bizana, Pondoland, Transkei, South Africa
Spouse(s) Nelson Mandela (m. 1958; div. 1996)
Children Zenani (b. 1959)
Zindziwa (b. 1960)
Alma mater University of South Africa
Profession Social worker, politician and South Africa activist

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela; 26 September 1936)[1] is a South African activist and politician who has held several government positions and headed the African National Congress Women's League. She is a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee.

She was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, including 27 years during which he was imprisoned. Although they were still married at the time of his becoming president of South Africa in May 1994, the couple had separated two years earlier. Their divorce was finalised on 19 March 1996,[2] though Winnie Mandela continued to be a presence in Mandela's life in later years despite his remarriage in 1998. Winnie could be seen almost daily visiting her former husband Nelson Mandela at the Mediclinic heart hospital in Pretoria where he was receiving treatment.[3] Of all the major figures who came to global prominence during the South African liberation struggle, Madikizela-Mandela was seen as the most at home in the world of celebrity culture, and for many of the years just before Nelson Mandela's release from 27 years in prison, she was his public face, bringing word of his thoughts and his state of mind.[4] She was offered academic honours abroad.

A controversial activist, she remains popular among her supporters, who refer to her as the "Mother of the Nation", yet reviled by others after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that she had personally been responsible for the murder, torture, abduction, and assault of numerous men, women, and children, as well as indirectly responsible for an even larger number of such crimes.[5]

Early life

Her Xhosa name is Nomzamo ("She who tries"). She was born in the village of eMbongweni,[6] Bizana, Pondoland, in what is now South Africa's Eastern Cape Province. She was born the fourth out of eight children, which included seven sisters and a brother. Her parents, Columbus and Gertrude, were both teachers. Columbus was a history teacher and a headmaster, and Gertrude was a domestic science teacher. Gertrude died when Winnie was nine, resulting in the break-up of her family as all the siblings were sent to live with different relatives. Madikizela-Mandela went on to become the head girl of her high school in Bizana. After she matriculated she went to Johannesburg to study social work at the Jan Hofmeyr School, despite restrictions on education of blacks during apartheid.[7] She earned her degree in social work in 1956, and several years later earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of Witwatersrand. She held a number of jobs in various parts of what was then the Bantustan of Transkei, including with the Transkei government, living at various times in Bizana, Shawbury and Johannesburg. Her first job was as a social worker at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.[8]


She met lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in 1957. She was 22 and standing at a bus stop in Soweto when Mandela first saw her and charmed her, securing a lunch date the following week.[3] They married in 1958 and had two daughters, Ezinhle ROOI (born 1959) and Zindzi (born 1960). Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1963 and released in 1990. The couple separated in 1992 and finalised the divorce in 1996 with an unspecified out-of-court settlement. Her attempt to obtain a settlement up to US$5 million, half of what she claimed her ex-husband was worth, was dismissed when she failed to appear in court for a settlement hearing.[9] When asked about the possibility of reconciliation in a 1994 interview, Winnie said: "I am not fighting to be the country's First Lady. In fact, I am not the sort of person to carry beautiful flowers and be an ornament to everyone."[10]


Due to her political activities, Winnie was regularly detained by the South African government. She was tortured,[how?][by whom?] subjected to house arrest, kept under surveillance, held in solitary confinement for over a year and banished to a remote town.[3] She emerged as a leading opponent of apartheid during the later years of her husband's imprisonment (August 1963 – February 1990). For many of those years, she was exiled to the town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State and confined to the area, except for the times she was allowed to visit her husband at the prison on Robben Island. Beginning in 1969, she spent eighteen months in solitary confinement at Pretoria Central Prison.[11] It was at this time that Winnie Mandela became well known in the West. She organised local clinics, campaigned actively for equal rights and was promoted by the ANC as a symbol of its struggle against apartheid.[12] In a leaked letter to Jacob Zuma in October 2008, just-resigned President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki alluded to the role the ANC had created for her in its anti-apartheid activism:

In the context of the global struggle for the release of political prisoners in our country, our movement took a deliberate decision to profile Nelson Mandela as the representative personality of these prisoners, and therefore to use his personal political biography, including the persecution of his then wife, Winnie Mandela, dramatically to present to the world and the South African community the brutality of the apartheid system.[13]

In 1985, Mandela won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award along with fellow activists Allan Boesak and Beyers Naude for their human rights work in South Africa. The Award is given annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to an individual or group whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy's vision and legacy.[14] She received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1988.[15]

Criminal convictions and findings of criminal behaviour

Her reputation was damaged by such rhetoric as that displayed in a speech she gave in Munsieville on 13 April 1986, where she endorsed the practice of necklacing (burning people alive using tyres and petrol) by saying: "With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country."[16] Further tarnishing her reputation were accusations by her bodyguard, Jerry Musivuzi Richardson, that she had ordered kidnapping and murder.[17] On 29 December 1988, Richardson, who was coach of the Mandela United Football Club, which acted as Mrs. Mandela's personal security detail, abducted 14-year-old James Seipei (also known as Stompie Moeketsi) and three other youths from the home of a Methodist minister, Rev. Paul Verryn, claiming she had the youths taken to her home because she suspected the reverend was sexually abusing them. The four were beaten to get them to admit to having had sex with the minister. Seipei was accused of being an informer, and his body later found in a field with stab wounds to the throat on 6 January 1989.[18][19]

In 1991, she was acquitted of all but the kidnapping.[3] Her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal. The final report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission, issued in 1998, found "Ms Winnie Madikizela Mandela politically and morally accountable for the gross violations of human rights committed by the MUFC" and that she "was responsible, by omission, for the commission of gross violations of human rights." [5] In 1992, she was accused of ordering the murder of Dr. Abu-Baker Asvat, a family friend who had examined Seipei at Mandela's house, after Seipei had been abducted but before he had been killed.[20] Mandela's role was later probed as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, in 1997.[21] She was said to have paid the equivalent of $8,000 and supplied the firearm used in the killing, which took place on 27 January 1989.[22] The hearings were later adjourned amid claims that witnesses were being intimidated on Winnie Mandela's orders.[23]

Transition to democracy

Winnie Mandela with Nelson Mandela, Alberto Chissano and his daughter Cidalia in Museu Galeria Chissano, Mozambique, 1990

During South Africa's transition to democracy, she adopted a far less conciliatory attitude than her husband toward the white community. Despite being on her husband's arm when he was released in 1990, the first time the two had been seen in public for nearly thirty years, the Mandelas' 38-year marriage ended when they separated in April 1992 after it was revealed she had been unfaithful to her husband during his imprisonment. The couple divorced in March 1996. She then adopted the surname Madikizela-Mandela. Appointed Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in the first post-Apartheid government (May 1994), she was dismissed eleven months later following allegations of corruption.[24]

She remained extremely popular among many ANC supporters, however. In December 1993 and April 1997, she was elected president of the ANC Women's League, although she withdrew her candidacy for ANC Deputy President at the movement's Mafikeng conference in December 1997. Earlier in 1997, she appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chairman of the commission recognised her importance in the anti-apartheid struggle, but exhorted her to apologise and to admit her mistakes. In a guarded response, she admitted "things went horribly wrong".[25]

Legal problems

On 24 April 2003, Winnie Mandela was convicted on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft, and her broker, Addy Moolman, was convicted on 58 counts of fraud and 25 of theft. Both had pleaded not guilty. The charges related to money taken from loan applicants' accounts for a funeral fund, but from which the applicants did not benefit. Madikizela-Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison.[26] Shortly after the conviction, she resigned from all leadership positions in the ANC, including her parliamentary seat and the presidency of the ANC Women's League.[27] In July 2004, an appeal judge of the Pretoria High Court ruled that "the crimes were not committed for personal gain". The judge overturned the conviction for theft, but upheld the one for fraud, handing her a three years and six months suspended sentence.[28]

In June 2007, the Canadian High Commission in South Africa declined to grant Winnie Mandela a visa to travel to Toronto, Canada, where she was scheduled to attend a gala fundraising concert organised by arts organisation MusicaNoir, which included the world premiere of The Passion of Winnie, an opera based on her life.[29]

Return to politics

When the ANC announced the election of its National Executive Committee on 21 December 2007, Madikizela-Mandela placed first with 2845 votes.[30][31]

Apology to riot victims

Madikizela-Mandela criticised the anti-immigrant violence in May–June 2008 that began in Johannesburg and spread throughout the country, and blamed the government's lack of suitable housing provisions for the sentiments behind the riots.[32] She apologised to the victims of the riots[33] and visited the Alexandra township. She offered her home as shelter for an immigrant family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She warned that the perpetrators of the violence could strike at the Gauteng train system.[34]

2009 general election

Madikizela-Mandela secured fifth place on the ANC's electoral list for the 2009 general election, behind party president and immediate former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe, Deputy President of South Africa Baleka Mbete, and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel. An article in The Observer suggested her position near the top of the list indicated that the party's leadership saw her as a valuable asset in the election with regard to solidifying support among the party's grassroots and the poor.[35]

2010 interview with Nadira Naipaul

In 2010, Madikizela-Mandela was interviewed by Nadira Naipaul. In the interview, she attacked her ex-husband, claiming that he had "let blacks down", that he was only "wheeled out to collect money", and that he is "nothing more than a foundation". She further attacked his decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with FW De Klerk. Among other things, she reportedly claimed Mandela was no longer "accessible" to her daughters. She referred to Archbishop Tutu, in his capacity as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, as a "cretin".[36]

The interview attracted media attention,[37][38] and the ANC announced that it would ask her to explain her comments regarding Nelson Mandela.[39] On 14 March 2010, a statement was issued on behalf of Winnie Mandela claiming that the interview was a fabrication.[40]

In popular culture

Tina Lifford played her in the 1997 TV film Mandela and de Klerk. Sophie Okonedo portrayed her in the BBC drama Mrs Mandela, first broadcast on BBC Four on 25 January 2010.[41] Jennifer Hudson played her in Winnie Mandela, directed by Darrell Roodt, released in Canada by D Films on 16 September 2011. Roodt, Andre Pieterse, and Paul L. Johnson based the film's script on Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob's biography, Winnie Mandela: A Life.[42] The Creative Workers Union of South Africa opposed the choice of Hudson in the title role, saying the use of foreign actors to tell the country's stories undermined efforts to develop the national film industry.[43][44]

Mandela was again portrayed in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom by actress Naomie Harris (British actor Idris Elba played Nelson Mandela). On viewing the film, Madikizela-Mandela told Harris it was "the first time she felt her story had been captured on film". Gugulethu okaMseleku, writing in The Guardian, stated that the film had returned Winnie Mandela to her rightful place, recognising her role in "the struggle" that, "for South African women… was more fundamental than her husband's."[45]

Honorary degree

In January 2018, the University Council and University Senate of Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda, the top-most academic and administrative organs of the university, approved the award of an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree to Winnie Nomzano Madikizela-Mandela, in recognition of her fight against apartheid in South Africa.[46][47]

See also


  1. ^ Winnie Mandela.
  2. ^ Daley, Suzanne (20 March 1996). "South African Judge Gives Nelson Mandela a Divorce". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b c d Smith, David (6 December 2013). "Nelson and Winnie Mandela's marriage ended, but the bond was never broken". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ "In Mandela Legacy, a Place for Winnie?". The New York Times. 3 August 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Volume Two, Chapter 6 (pp. 543–82): Special Investigation: Mandela United Football Club" (PDF). 29 October 1998. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  6. ^ Madikizela-Mandela profile. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  7. ^ Van Wyk, Chris (2003). Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Awareness Publishing. pp. 5–9. ISBN 1-919910-12-3. 
  8. ^ Preez Bezdrob, Anné Mariè (15 July 2015). Winnie Mandela: A Life. South Africa: Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-1868729265. 
  9. ^ "Nelson and Winnie Mandela divorce; Winnie fails to win $5 million settlement". Jet. 8 April 1996. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. 
  10. ^ Pereira, Derwin (22 June 1994). "Derwin Pereira – 'Invest to rebuild S. Africa' call by Winnie Mandela". Pretoria. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "Nomzamo Nobandla Winnifred MADIKIZELA-MANDELA". African National Congress. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2010. In 1969 she became one of the first detainees under Section 6 of the notorious Terrorism Act. She was detained for 18 months in solitary confinement in the condemned cell at Pretoria Central before being charged under the Suppression of Communism Act. 
  12. ^ "The Winnie Mandela Trial". BBC. 29 November 1997. 
  13. ^ "Thabo Mbeki's letter to Jacob Zuma". Politicsweb. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2009. 
  14. ^ "Robert F Kennedy Center Laureates". Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. 
  15. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982–1990, Page 2". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 
  16. ^ "Row over 'mother of the nation' Winnie Mandela". The Guardian. UK. 27 January 1989. 
  17. ^ "Winnie says evidence against her is 'ludicrous'". BBC News. 4 December 1997. Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  18. ^ Wren, Christopher S. (26 May 1990). "Winnie Mandela Aide Guilty of Murder". The New York Times. 
  19. ^ Bodies probably won't bury Winnie M&G. 15 March 2013
  20. ^ "South Africa Police Order Full Probe Of Mandela Charge", The Christian Science Monitor, 9 April 1992.
  21. ^ "Winnie may face fresh murder charge", The Independent, 28 November 1997
  22. ^ "Panel Hears Evidence Winnie Mandela Sought Doctor's Death", The New York Times, 2 December 1997.
  23. ^ Winnie hearing adjourned after intimidation claims. BBC. 1 December 1997.
  24. ^ Bridgland, Fred (26 April 2003). "Winnie Mandela's fall from grace". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 24 March 2009. 
  25. ^ "Facing the Past". PBS NewsHour. 4 December 1997. 
  26. ^ "ANC: We won't dump Winnie". South Africa: Sunday Times. 27 April 2003. 
  27. ^ "Winnie Mandela resigns ANC posts". CNN. 25 April 2003. 
  28. ^ "Winnie: No personal gain". News24. 7 May 2004. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. 
  29. ^ "Winnie Mandela denied entry to Canada for arts gala". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 5 June 2007. Retrieved 5 June 2007. 
  30. ^ Newly-elected National Executive Committee Archived 25 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine., ANC Website. Retrieved 21 December 2007
  31. ^ Winnie Mandela tops ANC election list Archived 2 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine., The Times, 21 December 2007
  32. ^ "Winnie speaks out on SA's issues". (30 May 2008). Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  33. ^ Hawley, Caroline. (16 May 2008) Refugees flee South Africa attacks. BBC News. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  34. ^ "S. Africa attacks may spread to trains – Mandela ex-wife"[permanent dead link]. Reuters (9 February 2009). Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  35. ^ Winnie set for shock comeback to ANC politics. The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  36. ^ Naipaul, Nadira (8 March 2010) "How Nelson Mandela betrayed us, says ex-wife Winnie" Archived 10 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. London Evening Standard.
  37. ^ "Winnie Mandela accuses Nelson of letting down South Africa's blacks". The Telegraph, 14 March 2010
  38. ^ Fernandez, Colin (9 March 2010) "Winnie Mandela accuses Nelson of 'betraying' the blacks of South Africa". Daily Mail
  39. ^ Williams, Murray & Kgosana, Caiphus (9 March 2010). "South Africa: "'Madiba' let us down"". 
  40. ^ "'Ms Naipaul is a liar and a fraud'". Times Live/Sunday Times, 14 March 2010
  41. ^ Dowell, Ben (11 March 2009). "BBC commissions Winnie Mandela drama". The Guardian. UK. 
  42. ^ Fleming, Michael. (17 November 2009) "Jennifer Hudson to star in 'Winnie'". Variety.
  43. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy. (7 December 2009) South African Actors Up In Arms over Hudson Casting | Movie News.
  44. ^ "Jennifer Hudson should not star in Mandela film, South African actors say". Daily Telegraph. 7 December 2009. 
  45. ^ "Long Walk to Freedom returns Winnie Mandela to her rightful place". The Guardian. 5 January 2014. 
  46. ^ News Agencies (4 January 2018). "Makerere to award Winnie Mandela with Honorary Doctorate". Daily Monitor. Kampala. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  47. ^ Kizza, Joseph (19 January 2018). "Makerere awards Winnie Mandela honorary degree". New Vision. Kampala. Retrieved 25 January 2018. 

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