Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
  • She was born on the 26th of September 1936 to Xhosa parents in a village called eMbongweni in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. She is the 4th born of 8 children and her mother died when she was 9 years old. She was sent to live with relatives and was separated from her siblings as a result.
  • She was the head girl of her high school and when she matriculated, she went on to study Social work in Johannesburg. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations.

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  • She met Nelson Mandela at 22 in Soweto. She was standing at a bus stop where Nelson Mandela saw her and offered her a ride home. He was able to secure a lunch date for the following week. They got married in 1958 and had 2 daughters, Zenani and Zindzi. Nelson Mandela was arrested and imprisoned in August 1963.

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  • Due to her husband’s imprisonment, Winnie Mandela became one of the leading voices against Apartheid in South Africa. She was tortured, kept under surveillance & house arrest as well as held in solitary confinement for 18 months at Pretoria Central prison. Despite the oppression, she never stopped campaigning actively for equal rights and organizing local clinics. She was backed by the ANC and she gained international recognition. She also visited Nelson Mandela as often as she could in prison.
  • In April 1986 she gave a speech endorsing necklacing (burning people alive by placing tires over their necks and pouring petrol over them). This tarnished her image. At the time South Africa was a very violent place, the police kept on shooting and killing innocent black people, even children. The black people felt like they had no choice but to fight back. She was also accused by her bodyguard of kidnapping and killing a teenager.
  • The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission found her guilty of several human rights violation acts in 1998. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and he and Winnie finalized their divorce in 1996. Some sources say that they separated in 1992 after it was revealed that she was unfaithful to him while he was in prison.

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  • She had a less compromising attitude than Nelson Mandela towards white people after his release. In December 1993 and April 1997 she was elected the head of the ANC women’s league. She apologized for her mistakes when she appeared before the truth and reconciliation commission. She admitted things went “horribly wrong” at some point. This was probably due to the constant oppression she was subject to by the Apartheid government.

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