Nelson Mandela’s Former Wife Winnie Dies at 81

Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, Nelson Mandela's ex-wife and a stalwart in the fight against apartheid, died Monday, her personal assistant says. She was 81.

Madikizela, aka Winnie, died in a Johannesburg hospital according to her assistant Zodwa Zwane.

Family spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement: "She 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."

Madikizela met Mandela while he was a lawyer and anti-apartheid activist in 1957. They were married a year later and had two children together.

Their life was short-lived together, as he was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. He was eventually released in 1990 and elected president of South Africa in 1994.

During Mandela's prison sentence, Madikizela was also subjected to apartheid forces and was placed under house arrest and at one time banished to Brandfort, a town in the central Free State province of South Africa, the Times Live reports.

She became one of the first detainees under the notorious Terrorism Act of 1967 and was imprisoned for 18 months in solitary confinement in a condemned cell at Pretoria Central Prison.

After 37 years of marriage, Madikizela and Mandela divorced in 1996, although their relationship had struggled just a few years into their marriage. She purportedly had an affair, with letters she wrote to her lover surfacing in South African newspapers.

“You're running around f—ing at the slightest emotional excuse‚” she wrote.

“The fact that I haven't been speaking to Tata [Nelson Mandela] for five months now over you is no longer your concern. I keep telling you the situation is deteriorating at home. You are not bothered because you are satisfying yourself every night with a woman‚” Madikizela reportedly wrote.

In his book Odyssey to Freedom‚ veteran advocate George Bizos described how Mandela would not attend legal consultations Bizos had with Madikizela-Mandela during legal proceedings for a kidnapping Madikizela was accused of.

“He drew the line at attending our consultations‚ primarily because these meetings were also attended by the young lawyer … her lover during the latter part of Nelson’s imprisonment and after he was released‚” Bizos wrote in his book.

In her later years, Madikizela's reputation became tainted legally and politically. In 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault of Stompie Seipei, a young activist who was killed by one of her bodyguards.

Her bodyguards had abducted Seipei, 14, in 1989, along with three other youths. Her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence on appeal.

She became a Member of Parliament (MP) after the first democratic election in 1994 and was appointed deputy minister of arts and culture. Later, she was fired by Mandela after an unauthorized trip to Ghana.

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Ever since, she had been an MP, despite limited appearances in Parliament in the past few years.

In 2016‚ she was conferred an Order of Luthuli in Silver during the National Orders Awards ceremony for her excellent contribution to the fight for the liberation of the people of South Africa.