Winnie Mandela, 81, dies after long illness

SOWETO, South Africa – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who emerged as a combative anti-apartheid campaigner during her husband Nelson Mandela’s decades in jail but whose reputation was later tarnished by allegations of violence, died on Monday at the age of 81.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela died peacefully surrounded by her family after a long illness that kept her in and out of hospital since the start of the year, family spokesperson Victor Dlamini said in a statement.

“Winnie Mandela leaves a huge legacy and, as we say in African culture, a gigantic tree has fallen,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said after visiting Madikizela-Mandela’s house in Soweto, where he was surrounded by singing mourners.

“She has been one of the strongest women in our struggle, who suffered immensely under the apartheid regime, who was imprisoned, who was banished, who was treated very badly,” he said.

An official memorial service will be held for Ms Madikizela-Mandela on April 11 and a national funeral on April 14, said Mr Ramaphosa, who declared earlier that South Africans had lost “a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a comrade, a leader and an icon.”

A crowd of around 200 people congregated outside Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home soon after her death was announced, singing and dancing.

The cause of death or nature of her illness was not disclosed.

Ministers and national figures paid tribute, including retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.”

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres was among those who offered his condolences from abroad, according to UN spokeswoman Stephane Dujarric.

“The secretary-general is saddened by the passing of Ms Winnie Madikizela Mandela, a leading figure at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

“She was a strong and fearless voice in the struggle for equal rights and will be remembered as a symbol of resistance,” he said.

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