Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist and former wife of the late President Nelson Mandela, passed away Monday at the age of 81. In South Africa, she was beloved yet polarizing. Known as the “Mother of the Nation,” she was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, including the 27 he spent imprisoned on Robben Island. While her husband was in jail, she was repeatedly detained and banished and her house was bombed, yet she continued to fight against the apartheid regime as one of the most prominent activists. When Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, Madikizela-Mandela was elected to parliament and became deputy arts and science minister. Two years later, the couple divorced and she was ousted from Mandela’s cabinet. She held many prominent political positions throughout her life, including head of the African National Congress’ Women’s League, member of the Congress’s National Executive Committee, and member of parliament, a position she held at her death.
While Madikizela-Mandela was adored in South Africa, she was also feared. In December 1988, her bodyguards kidnapped four people, severely beating them in Madikizela-Mandela’s home. One of them died from his injuries. Madikizela-Mandela was sentenced to six years in prison for kidnapping, but the sentence was later reduced. Along with murder and kidnapping allegations, Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of fraudulent bank loans and theft. Joining us to untangle this complex, meaningful legacy is Audrey Brown, a South African journalist with the BBC.