South African anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela died peacefully on Monday following a long illness, a family spokesman said.
“She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year,” Victor Dlamini said in a statement.
“She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”
Hailed as mother of the ‘new’ South Africa, Winnie’s legacy as an anti-apartheid heroine was undone when she was revealed to be a ruthless ideologue prepared to sacrifice laws and lives in pursuit of revolution and redress.
Her uncompromising methods and refusal to forgive contrasted sharply with the reconciliation espoused by her husband Nelson Mandela as he worked to forge a stable, pluralistic democracy from the racial division and oppression of apartheid.
The contradiction helped kill their marriage and destroyed the esteem in which she was held by many South Africans, although the firebrand activist retained the support of radical black nationalists to the end.
In her twilight years, Madikizela-Mandela, who died on Monday aged 81, had frequent run-ins with authority that further undermined her reputation as a fighter against the white-minority regime that ran Africa’s most advanced economy from 1948 to 1994.
During her husband’s 27-year incarceration, Madikizela-Mandela campaigned tirelessly for his release and for the rights of black South Africans, suffering years of detention, banishment and arrest by the white authorities.
She remained steadfast and unbowed throughout, emerging to punch the air triumphantly in the clenched-fist salute of black power as she walked hand-in-hand with Mandela out of Cape Town’s Victor Verster prison on Feb. 11, 1990.
For husband and wife, it was a crowning moment that led four years later to the end of centuries of white domination when Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.