Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former wife of the late President Nelson Mandela, has passed at 81 years old.
In a statement the family said she passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year.
“Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid,” the statement said. “She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country.”
“None of us had predicted this,” a family spokesman told CNN.
Madikizela-Mandela was known as the “Mother of the Nation” because of her struggle against white-minority rule in South Africa.
Madikizela-Mandela was born in 1936 in the Eastern Cape province. Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela was the daughter of a history teacher.[/video]
As a young social worker, and the age of 22, she married Nelson Mandela in 1958 at age 22. She stood by his side in the years following his 1964 conviction and life imprisonment sentence for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.[/video]
Madikizela-Mandela led an international campaign calling for his release.
While Nelson Mandela was banned from reading newspapers, his wife was his link to the outside world. Madikizela-Mandela told him of the changes taking place in his homeland and became his often outspoken and controversial public voice. Nelson Mandela was finally freed in 1990.[/video]