Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the second wife of Nelson Mandela, was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician. She was a member of parliament and a former leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League. As a qualified social worker, she has always been an anti-apartheid activist, but she became a public figure only after her husband, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned. In his absence, Winnie actively pursued a political career and was repeatedly imprisoned and tortured by the police on numerous offenses. She was incarcerated for a maximum of 493 days. After her release from incarceration, she became the face of terror as she used violence in her Soweto anti-apartheid movement. She resorted to kidnapping, torture, and murder to cope with her opponents. The ANC harshly criticized her for her actions, and she was ultimately expelled from the party following allegations of corruption. Following a dispute over Mandela’s property, the couple divorced in 1996. In 2003, after being convicted of larceny and fraud, she took a break from politics, only to return a few years later.
Youth and Early Life
Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was born on September 26, 1936, in the Eastern Cape village of Mbongweni. Both of her parents, Columbus and Gertrude, were educators. Her mother taught domestic science and her father taught history. Winnie was the fourth daughter of her parents out of a total of eight girls and one son. Her mother died when she was nine years old, after which she and her siblings were sent to reside with various relatives.
In 1956, she graduated with a degree in social work from the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg after completing her education in Embongweni. The University of Witwatersrand also granted Winnie a bachelor’s degree in international relations. Winnie’s first employment was as a social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, after holding a number of menial positions.
Winnie Mandela’s Career
Winnie was always interested in politics, but her interest expanded exponentially when she shared a dormitory with Adelaide Tsukudu, who later married Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress (ANC). Adelaide frequently discussed her future spouse and Nelson Mandela, his charismatic legal partner.
Winnie met Nelson Mandela in 1957 and wed him the following year. Despite having two children, however, her married existence was extremely lonely. Mandela was constantly attending ANC meetings or dealing with legal cases and the Treason Trial.
In October 1958, Winnie participated in an ANC Women’s League-organized protest against the Apartheid government. The police apprehended one thousand women who participated in this protest. Winnie’s first experience with prison life exposed her to the deplorable conditions of South African prisons, which strengthened her resolve to fight apartheid.
The police conducted a raid on Nelson Mandela’s home on March 30, 1961, a few days after the massacre of 69 people during a Pan African Congress (PAC) anti-pass demonstration at Sharpeville. Nelson Mandela was then arrested, after which Winnie was left to contend for herself.
Winnie Mandela became actively involved in political activities after Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, for which she was frequently detained by the authorities. Winnie was apprehended by the police on 12 May 1969 and held in solitary confinement for 17 months.
From 1977 to 1985, she was confined to the town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State and was not permitted to leave the town between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., preventing her from visiting her spouse in prison. Winnie organized campaigns for equal rights despite her confinement, which led the ANC to promote her as a symbol of their struggle against apartheid.
The apartheid police continually harassed and tortured her and her supporters. She was subjected to such severe torment that she eventually developed an addiction to painkillers and alcohol to manage the back pain caused by the police beatings. Winnie decided to return to Soweto in defiance of the government at the end of 1985.
In 1986, she began protests against the practice of ‘necklacing,’ in which individuals are burned alive with tires and gasoline. She began wearing military uniforms and designated the members of the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC) as her bodyguards. She began settling family disputes at her home with the assistance of her retainers and delivering judgments that eventually led to kidnapping and murder. During this period, she was charged with multiple murders.
In 1988, in retaliation for the homicides committed by MUFC, Soweto students burned down Winnie’s home. Her actions were severely criticized by the ANC after she failed to end her alliance with MUFC despite being instructed to do so by Nelson Mandela.
In 1988, on Winnie’s orders, the MUFC kidnapped and tortured to death 14-year-old Stompie Sepei for admitting that he had been sexually assaulted by the Methodist minister Rev. Paul Verryn. Due to a paucity of evidence, Winnie was acquitted of all charges except kidnapping Stompie. Her six-year imprisonment sentence was then reduced to a fine.
Winnie was first seen with her husband, Nelson Mandela, upon his release from prison 30 years later in February 1990. In April 1992, Mandela petitioned for divorce, citing Winnie’s unfaithfulness. In March 1996, their divorce became final.
In addition, Winnie was terminated from her position as director of the ANC’s social welfare department due to corruption rumors. In May 1994, she also secured a position as Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science, and Technology, despite continuing to campaign for the ANC in South Africa’s first non-racial elections. However, she was requested to resign within a year after she was again implicated in corruption rumors.
Winnie was re-elected president of the ANC Women’s League not once, but twice, in December 1993 and April 1997, despite corruption rumors. In 2003, Winnie Mandela assisted in resolving a hostage situation at Wits University, in which a student who had not paid his tuition held a staff member at Knifepoint.
Winnie Mandela was convicted of 43 counts of fraud and 25 counts of larceny and sentenced to five years in prison in April 2003. After receiving a court order of imprisonment, she resigned from all positions of leadership within the ANC. In July 2004, she successfully appealed the court’s decision, resulting in a reduction of her larceny conviction sentenced to three years and six months.
Winnie’s absence from politics did not hinder her popularity with her supporters, as evidenced by the fact that she won the National Executive Committee election on 21 December 2007 with a majority of 2,838 ballots. She then criticized the anti-immigrant violence that occurred between May and June 2008 and criticized the government for failing to provide the public with adequate accommodation.
During the post-apartheid era, it appeared that the ANC distanced itself from Winnie. Therefore, she formed close ties with Bantu Holomisa and Julius Malema. She was also a political patron of Malema, who founded the Economic Freedom Fighters after leaving the African National Congress.
Awards & Achievements
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela received the ‘Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award’ in 1985 for her advocacy on behalf of human rights in South Africa. In 1988, she received the ‘Candace Award for Distinguished Service’ from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
In January 2018, the University Council and University Senate of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, presented her with an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) as a token of appreciation for her decades-long efforts against apartheid in South Africa.
Personal History and Legacy
Winnie Mandela was only 22 years old when she first met Nelson Mandela, a lawyer, and anti-apartheid activist, at a Soweto bus stop. Mandela was 16 years her senior at the time and was married to Evelyn Mase. He courted Winnie, and on June 14, 1958, they were wed. The couple’s two daughters were named Zenani and Zindziwa.
Mandela was incarcerated from 1963 until his release in 1990. Two years later, in 1996, the couple divorced and finalized their separation. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away on April 2, 2018, at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg at the age of 81. Since early 2018, she had been diagnosed with diabetes and had undertaken multiple surgical procedures.
Estimated Net Worth
Winnie is one of the wealthiest and most popular politicians in the world. According to our investigation of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider, Winnie Madikizela Mandela has a net worth of $5 million.
Winnie was the principal of her Bizana secondary school. Her supporters affectionately call her “Mother of the Nation.”