Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an anti-apartheid stalwart and ex-wife to Nelson Mandela, has died. She was 81.
Madikizela-Mandela became a beacon of the struggle against racial segregation and discrimination during her her husband’s lengthy incarceration.
Footage of the pair hand-in-hand on his release in 1990 was seen around the world.
But she was accused of endorsing brutal violence, including the “necklacing” of alleged informants with burning car tyres, and was found guilty of kidnapping in the case of murdered teenage activist Stompie Moeketsi.
The BBC quoted family spokesman Victor Dlamini as saying Madikizela-Mandela “died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year”.
“She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones,” he said.
Madikizela-Mandela was married to Mandela from 1958 to 1996, covering the years he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
They separated two years later and divorced in 1996.
Madikizela-Mandela’s own activism against the apartheid regime led to her being imprisoned for months and spending years under house arrest.
Her political activism was marred by a kidnapping and assault conviction in 1991, for which she was fined.
Madikizela-Mandela faced these allegations again during the 1997 hearings before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel that investigated apartheid-era crimes.
As a parliamentarian after South Africa’s first all-race elections, she was convicted of fraud.
Still, she was widely venerated in South Africa for her role in fighting white minority rule.
British veterans of the campaign against apartheid in South Africa praised her role in opposing white minority rule.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott hailed the “extraordinary courage” of the woman who fought for 27 years for the release from jail of her husband Nelson Mandela.
Abbott said: “I will never forget the image of Winnie walking hand in hand with Nelson Mandela when he was finally released from prison in February 1990.
“She had campaigned for 27 long years for his release.
“Nobody can deny her extraordinary courage and that, for poor black South Africans, she remains a heroine.”
And former cabinet minister Lord Hain said Madikizela-Mandela’s “fearless” opposition to the apartheid regime should not be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding her “rogue later life”.
Lord Hain said: “She suffered so much bringing up her two girls when Nelson Mandela was in prison: beaten up, banned, banished to remote Brandfort, harassed, imprisoned.”
Describing her as “fearless (and) defiant in the face of the apartheid state”, he added: “Remember that when correctly criticising her rogue later life.”