Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and an anti-apartheid activist in her own right, has died at age 81, reports the BBC. The two were married nearly 40 years, though Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for about 30 of those years.
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They divorced in 1996, and the Washington Post notes that she was still referred to as “Mother of the Nation” long after their famous split. “She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year,” says a family spokesman.
Madikizela-Mandela’s own activism against the apartheid regime led to her being imprisoned for months and spending years under house arrest, per the AP. Her political activism was marred by a kidnapping and assault conviction in 1991, for which she was fined.
She faced these allegations again during the 1997 hearings before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel that investigated apartheid-era crimes. As a parliamentarian after South Africa’s first all-race elections, she was convicted of fraud. Still, she was widely venerated in South Africa for her role in fighting white minority rule.