She was known in South Africa as the ‘Mother of the Nation’ .
She spent the majority of her life campaigning against apartheid – the violent white rule of the South African government between the 1940s and the 1990s that led to extreme segregation and discrimination against black South Africans. Her efforts did not go unpunished, and she was frequently incarcerated and banished during the fight for her people.
But her legacy is not without bruises. Her name is intertwined with atrocities such as murder, kidnapping and corruption. She was married to Nelson Mandela, an icon of South African liberation, but the public implosion of that marriage, too, left her reputation marred.
This is the complicated and powerful story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who died today, aged 81.
Winnie was born in 1936, the fourth of eight children to teacher parents. Her mother died when she was nine, and she and her siblings were scattered to live with different relatives.
Winnie worked to become Head Girl at her high school and went on to study social work at the The Jan H. Hofmeyr School in Johannesburg – the school opened in 1941 and was the first institution to train black social workers in South Africa.
“There is an anger that wakes up in you when you are a child,” she wrote in her 1984 autobiography, Part of my Soul Went With Him.
“It builds up and determines the political consciousness of the black man.”
The fact that whites still hate her, it means Mama Winnie Mandela did not sellout.
“Long Live Winnie Mandela” pic.twitter.com/a0vhY9zxNx
— Blakman Mhlanga (@blakmanmhlanga1) April 2, 2018
Soon after her graduation in 1956, Winnie was 22 and standing at a bus stop in the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto when Nelson Mandela saw her, The Guardian reports.
Mandela asked Winnie to lunch the following week and that is how their life together started and continued: Mandela would send a car to pick up Winnie, they would meet, and then he would have to leave. “Even at that stage, a life with him was a life without him,” her autobiography reads.