Obituary of Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Mama Winnie was born in Bizana in the Eastern Cape on 26 September 1936 and passed away in Johannesburg on Monday, 2 April 2018.
Mama Winnie represents a generation of South African leadership and black
women who were exposed to the full brutality of the apartheid regime because
of their political activity. She endured continuous harassment at the hands of
the apartheid security police and was subjected to torture while in prison. While
the pain that she endured during these years could not be forgotten, she did
not allow it to break her spirit and humanity. Until the end, Mama Winnie raised
her voice in support of meaningful transformation in South African society. She
demanded social justice, and came to represent the hopes and dreams of our
country’s poorest and most vulnerable.
Mama Winnie was born to Columbus Kokani and Gertrude Nomathamsanqa
Madikizela, both of whom were teachers. As a young adult she moved to
Johannesburg and became the first qualified black medical social worker at
Soweto’s then Baragwanath Hospital (now called Chris Hani Baragwanath
Hospital). Research into infant mortality rates in Johannesburg’s Alexandra
township, as well as other experiences of apartheid South Africa, drew her into
On 14 June 1958, she married Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela with whom she had
two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. Their early married life was turbulent;
peppered with constant police raids, African National Congress (ANC) meetings,
protest actions and legal cases.
In October 1958, Mama Winnie took part in a mass women’s protest against the
apartheid government’s infamous pass laws, organised by Mama Lilian Ngoyi,
Mama Albertina Sisulu and others. During the protest, the police arrested over
1 000 women. Mama Winnie and others spent two weeks in prison as a sign of
further protest. It was an event which brought Mama Winnie’s political leadership
capabilities to the fore.
She played a leading role in the “We Stand by Our Leaders” campaign in support
of the Treason Trialists of 1956-1961. Amongst her trusted confidantes was
Mama Ngoyi who, along with Mama Helen Joseph, were the only two women
accused in the Treason Trial.
From 1961 she was subjected to an almost uninterrupted series of legal orders
that curbed her ability to work and socialise. In 1962 she lost her husband to
long-term imprisonment and was only reunited with him in 1990.
Mama Winnie herself was constantly harassed and bullied, and her children
targeted. In 1962 she was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act,
during which time she was restricted to Orlando, Soweto.
This restricted her movements to the magisterial district of Johannesburg,
prohibited her from entering any educational premises and barred her from
attending or addressing any meetings or gatherings where more than two
people were present.
She worked clandestinely for the ANC; attending meetings, printing and
distributing pamphlets, and was put under house arrest in 1970 for repeatedly
flouting her banning orders.
In 1965 a more severe banning order barred her from moving anywhere beyond
Orlando West. The ramification of this banning order was the cost of losing her
job as a social worker.
On the night of 12 May 1969, Mama Winnie and her children were woken to
the familiar sounds of a police raid. The police tore her away from her children
under the Terrorism Act of 1967. She was detained in solitary confinement for
491 days (17 months) under the Terrorism Act.
As soon as Mama Winnie was released, the apartheid machinery slapped
another more stringent banning order on her, severely restricting her movements.
Despite the banning order, she managed to visit her husband on Robben Island,
for some 30 minutes.
In May 1973, she was arrested again and given a 12-month sentence at
Kroonstad Women’s Prison. She was released after six months and surprisingly,
her banning order was not renewed.
In May 1976, Mama Winnie worked with Dr Nthato Motlana to establish the
Soweto Parents’ Association and had their hands full with youth and parents
who had been arrested, injured or killed in the protest of June 1976.
Following the student protest in Soweto, Mama Winnie was held in custody for
five months without charge and in January 1977, she was served with a fresh
banning order that exiled her to Brandfort in the Free State.
By all accounts, her banishment to Brandfort backfired. While there, she
established a local gardening collective, soup kitchen, mobile health unit,
sewing club, daycare centre, and an orphan and juvenile centre.
She defied the system and returned to Soweto and throughout the 1980s, she
took on an increasingly prominent role in the struggle against apartheid. The
1980s were characterised by an unprecedented level of mass participation and
community struggles throughout the country, and particularly driven by Mama
Winnie, in Soweto.
The apartheid government responded with extreme violence, including troops in
the townships and two states of emergency.
Mama Winnie’s commitment to the struggle for humanity, in particular for
women, led to her being elected in 1993 as the President of the ANC Women’s
League and subsequently re-elected in 1997 until 2003.
She was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and
Technology after 1994.
In 1984 she published the book Part of My Soul and in 2013, 491 Days: Prisoner
number 1323/69, which she dedicated to her late granddaughter Zenani. It
draws on a journal she secretly wrote during her imprisonment. In the book,
she speaks of the pain of being separated from her children and about how this
shaped her into the person that she became.
Mama Winnie was a proud black African woman who fought and persevered
for her country against injustice. She knew it was a thankless job and did not
endure the hardship in pursuit of any personal glorification but instead for the
emancipation of her people. She provided refuge to many young activists who
identified with freedom and social justice. For this she was given the title of
Honorary President of the Congress of South African Students, for life.
Mama Winnie is survived by her daughters: their Royal Highnesses Zenani
Dlamini and Zindziswa Mandela; her grandchildren: Zaziwe, Zamaswazi, Zinhle,
Zoleka, Zondwa, Bambatha, Zozuko and Zwelabo; and her great-grandchildren:
Ziyanda, Ziphokazi, Zwelami, Zamakhosi, Zazi, Ziwelene, Zenkosi, Zanyiwe,
Zinokuhle, Ziyalo and Zenzelwe.
Aahh’ Nobandla, aahh’ Nobandla, ahh’ Nobandla!!!
Ntombi Yakwa Madikizela
Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Mandela was born on 26 September 1936 in the village of Mbongweni at Bizana in Pondoland in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.
The daughter of two teachers, Columbus Kokani Madikizela and Nomthamsanqa Gertrude Mzaidume, she went on to study at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg and became South Africa's first black medical social worker.
On 14 June 1958 she married lawyer and political activist Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and in the same year was detained for two weeks while pregnant with their first child Zenani, for protesting against women being forced to carry passbooks. Their second child Zindziswa was born in 1960 and within months her husband went underground.
Mama Winnie was banned almost continuously by the apartheid regime from 1962 -- the year her husband was captured and began serving what became 27 years in prison. Continuously harassed and persecuted she was detained for the longest period of 491 days from 12 May 1969.
On 16 May 1977 she was studying at home in Soweto when armed men surrounded the house and took her and Zindzi to the Protea Police Station where she was told she was being banished to the Free State Province some four hours away by road. Her belongings were ripped from the house and piled atop a truck and just like that, mother and daughter were dumped without food or water in a hovel with no floors and without ceilings. The bleak township of Phatakahle outside Brandfort where she knew not a soul and didnt know the language, was 'home' for the next nine years until she defied the regime and returned to Soweto.
Throughout her husband's imprisonment she kept the flag flying and became a leading member of the resistance in the country.
In the height of the struggle against apartheid she said: "I have ceased a long time ago to exist as an individual. The ideals, the political goals that I stand for, those are the ideals and goals of the people in this country."
She authored two books: Part of my Soul (1984) and 491 Days: Prisoner number 13223/69 (2013).