Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former South African leader Nelson Mandela who was a political force and contentious figure in her own right, has died at the age of 81, her family confirmed in statement on Monday.
Madikizela-Mandela was, along with her ex-husband, a key figure in the fight to end the racist apartheid system imposed on South Africa for decades by a white ruling class. She was married to Nelson Mandela during his incarceration at the notorious Robin Island prison.
To her many supporters, Madikizela-Mandela was known as “the mother of the nation,” in spite of criminal convictions on charges ranging from fraud to kidnapping and assault.
She became a member of South Africa’s parliament but the scandals saw her sharply criticized by the African National Congress party, which leads the country and which her late ex-husband led for years himself.
Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela separated in 1992 and were formally divorced in 1996.