Winnie Madikizela Mandela, former wife to South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela is Dead, reports say.

Seen as the “mother of the nation” by many who admired her steely leadership and activism against a brutal racist and repressive regime, Mandela was a polarising figure who was repeatedly accused of being linked to violence and corruption.

A statement from Mandela’s family said the former political prisoner, who used her family name of Madikezela after her divorce, had been in and out of hospital since the beginning of the year.

“She succumbed peacefully surrounded by her family and loved ones in the early hours of Monday afternoon,” the statement said.

“Mrs Madikezela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid. She fought valiantly against the apartheid state … sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country and helped to give the struggle for justice in South Africa one of its most recognisable faces.”

Fikile Mbalula, a senior member of the African National Congress (ANC), described “Mama Winnie” as “a great symbol for the resistance against a brutal government”.

Jeff Radebe, the South African minister of energy, said “Mama Winnie Mandela was recognised by the people as the Mother of the Nation. As the ANC we dip our banner”.

Herman Mashaba, the opposition party mayor of Johannesburg, said Madikezela-Mandela served South Africa with distinction.

Adam Habib, the principal of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, called Madikezela-Mandela “the symbol of resistance in the darkest days of apartheid [who] provided hope when there was no other.”

Retired archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu praised her as a “defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid”.
“Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists,” he added.

The South African anti-apartheid hero who died the age of 81 was in January this year recognised and awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Makerere University for her contribution towards the fight and eventual elimination of apartheid in South Africa.

Makerere University had wanted to recognise Winnie Mandela in August last year during the Nelson Mandela Commemorative Lecture, but the office of the vice chancellor received information from the South African High Commission in Kampala that she was not able to travel due to ill-health. Instead, it is her granddaughter Zoleka Mandela who attended the event.

Makerere’s Doctor of Laws (LL.D) is awarded in recognition for public service by eminent statesmen, administrators and lawyers.

Winnie Mandela has been a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National
Congress (ANC)

In 1993, she was President of the ANC Women’s League

In 1994, she was Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology

• 1983 New York City renamed the square in front of the South African Mission to the United Nations as ‘Nelson and Winnie Mandela Plaza’.

• 1984 Freedom of the City of Aberdeen conferred on both Nelson and Winnie Mandela, on 29 November.

• 1985 the Third World Prize, awarded annually by the London-based Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, awarded jointly to Nelson and Winnie Mandela.

• 1986 freedom of the Borough of Islwyn, Wales, given to Winnie and Nelson Mandela.

• 1986 Mandela awarded, with Winnie Mandela, the Third World Prize by the Strategic and International Studies Group of Malaysia.

• 1987 Honorary Degrees to Winnie and Nelson Mandela, from the Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean.

• 2016 The Order of Luthuli in Silver for her “excellent contribution to the fight for the liberation of the people of South Africa”, awarded by President Jacob Zuma.