Mama Winnie was born in Mbizana 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 activism. 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.