On April 2, 2018, the world lost one of the most influential anti-apartheid activists in history.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of South African president and hero Nelson Mandela, succumbed at the age of 81.
Apartheid, a South African racial segregation policy that existed between 1948 and 1994, was an inhumane, racist societal structure that destroyed the lives of South African black people for decades. Madikizela-Mandela became the face and mother of the anti-apartheid motion during the course of its 27 years of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, and she became a figure that many came to respect and admire in her own right.
Madikizela-Mandela resulted an unbelievably courageous — and complex — life. As with most activists, she wasn’t perfect. She confessed to her role in brutal crimes, and her very public and complicated life took a toll on her personal life. But Madikizela-Mandela acknowledged and apologized for many of her mistakes toward the end of her life.
Regardless of how people think of her, it’s impossible to not acknowledge the importance of their own lives.
Here are three things to remember about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
1. She believed in ending apartheid and helping others long before meeting and marrying Nelson Mandela.
Madikizela-Mandela was a top student throughout school. A trained social worker, she also obtained a certain degree in international relations and began anti-apartheid activism as in her 20 s.
Her first undertaking was working as a social worker at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. In a time when activists were attacked, tortured, and killed, her public anti-apartheid views and runs were unusual and invaluable. She was fearless, courageous, and unapologetic in her journey to helping others.
The One and Only Queen from Buckingham Palace to Soweto, Mam Winnie Mandela suffered so much ache, from being tortured, apprehended, character assassination and being marginalized by so called comrades, “yet still I rise” #RipQueenWinneMandela pic.twitter.com/ M5Ibf2IH6j
— Tbo Touch (@ iamtbotouch) April 2, 2018
2. She was the considers the “mother” of the anti-apartheid motion and post-apartheid South Africa.
When Nelson Mandela was arrested and imprisoned in 1964, Winnie continued to carry on her husband’s legacy and mission.
This work came at a great expense: She was frequently detained by the South African government, attaining her subject to house arrest, reported torture, and extended periods of solitary confinement . During the later years of her husband’s imprisonment, she was exiled to the town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State and confined to the region, aside from rare days that she was allowed to visit her husband at the prison on Robben Island.
Unbeknownst to many, Madikizela-Mandela also did time in prison for her revolutionary views. In 1969 and 1970, she spent 17 months in solitary confinement at Pretoria Central Prison.
Eventually, she was recognized for her human rights work. In 1985, she was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
In April 2016, Madikizela-Mandela received one of South Africa’s highest honors: the Order of Luthuli, dedicated, in part, for contributions to the struggle for democracy.
3. In a very feminist act, she refused to be defined by her husband.
While Winnie repeatedly supported and conveyed her love for her husband, she refused to be defined by him.
Known as a charming politician and activist, Madikizela-Mandela had a dedicated following of her own among the most poor and disenfranchised communities in South Africa.
Proudly known as being much more radical than her all-inclusive spouse, Madikizela-Mandela led her own charge for republic . The two divorced in 1996, and afterwards, she was often asked about any opportunities at reconciliation. She responded, “ I am not opposing to be the country ’ s first lady. In fact, I am not the sort of person to carry beautiful flowers and be an decoration to everyone . ”
Madikizela-Mandela resulted a life most can only imagine. Fraught with adversity, imprisonment, and personal challenges, she had her share of issues and fails. But without her dedication and hard work, South Africa likely wouldn’t be the apartheid-free nation it is today.
Her power and strength was undeniable, and we can take the best of her life’s work and apply it to continuous fightings against injustice and inequality in our world today.
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