Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died at age 81. The iconic anti-apartheid South African campaigner who spent decades asking for the liberation of former husband Nelson Mandela died after a long illness in Johannesburg.

Winnie’s family said that she passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital. Her death was a shock to relatives, though she had been frequenting the hospital since the beginning of this year because of her illness.

“Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid,” the statement by her family said. “She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country.”

The Mother of the Nation

Minnie was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years. She had to endure all the 27 years Mandela was in jail on Robben Island, which is near Cape Town. During that time, she supported her ex-husband’s ideas of freedom and justice. She fought against the South African apartheid. Winnie has become, alongside Nelson Mandela, in the faces of justice in South Africa.  That is why she is known as the “Mother of the Nation.”

Apartheid, Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela, South Africa,
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was known as the Mother of the Nation. She became a visible advocate for rights and justice in South Africa pledging for Mandela’s release when he was in jail. Image credit: Africa is a Country

“She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one of its most recognizable faces,” the statement expressed

Though their marriage could make it through Mandela’s imprisonment, the couple split up in 1996, just two years after Mandela became the first black president of South Africa. They had two daughters together.  Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, leaving a great legacy behind just as Winnie is doing now.

‘None of us had predicted this’

Minnie’s death was quite a terrible surprise for her beloved ones since it was an unexpected death. Madikizela-Mandela was a member of the parliament of her country at the moment of her departure.

Apartheid, Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela, South Africa
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela dies at 81 in South Africa. Image credit: People

“None of us had predicted this,” one of her relatives told CNN.

One of the last official visits Madikizela-Mandela entertained was from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. On Monday, Ramaphosa praised the anti-apartheid advocate for the efforts to help the “dispossessed and the marginalized” and for being a “voice for the voiceless.”

“Even at the darkest moments of our struggle for liberation, Mam’ Winnie was an abiding symbol of the desire of our people to be free,” Ramaphosa expressed in a statement. “In the midst of repression, she was a voice of defiance and resistance. In the face of exploitation, she was a champion of justice and equality.”

Minnie will receive a memorial service on April 11 and an official national funeral on April 14, according to the South African president.

Source: Fox 2 now