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While Nelson Mandela rightly gets credit as the face of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela deserves some of that praise as well. The second wife of the late famed leader passed away Monday after contending with a long illness, and South Africans and others around the world are joined in mourning.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was born September 26, 1936 in the East Cape region of South Africa. Before meeting Nelson Mandela, she was trained as a social worker and met the leader when she was in her early twenties. while Though he was 16 years older than her, the pair married in 1958.  The pair went on to have two daughters.

When Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1963, it would be the last time they would have physical contact for 27 years. Winnie took up the mantle, fighting against the white-majority and apartheid National Party while suffering imprisonment, torture, state surveillance, harassment and other indignities. Dubbed by Black South Africans as “Mother of the Nation,” Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was central in many efforts, including the Soweto Uprising in 1976.

After Mr. Mandela’s release in 1990 and after he became South Africa’s first Black president, Mrs. Mandela served as First Lady, but their marriage was coming to a bitter end. They divorced in 1996. And while Mrs. Mandela accomplished much in her lifetime, including becoming the African National Congress’ Women’s League president in 1993, her time in the spotlight was not without its controversies.

The 1991 kidnapping and murder of a 14-year-old Black South African activist suspected of being a police informant blighted Mandela’s reputation. Her bodyguard was charged with murder and Mrs. Mandela faced accessory charges as it was alleged she ordered the kidnapping.

Facing six years in prison, she received a two-year suspended sentence while claiming her innocence.

But despite the obstacles along the way, Mrs. Mandela became a member of the South African Parliament in 1999.






Little Known Black History Fact: Winnie Mandela  was originally published on