Biography of Winnie Mandela

By Radiyah Shakur

Winnie MandelaWinnie Madikizela-Mandela is a freedom fighter, a politician, a mother and former wife to one of South Africa’s most famous equal rights fighters, Nelson Mandela. Similarly, she is also one of South Africa’s most outspoken and controversial figures.

Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was born on 26 September in Bizana, Transkei in 1934. She was one of eight siblings from a family that was better off than most black people in South Africa in those years. At age16 Winnie left home to attend the Jan Hofmeyer School of Social Work in Johannesburg, Gauteng. After graduating she became the first African social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital. Winnie also completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations at The University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, one of South Africa’s top universities.

Winnie’s social work exposed her to the disparities among the black majority and privileged white minority in South Africa. "It was while working as the first black medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital that I started to become politicised" says Mandela. "I started to realise the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, the appalling conditions created by the inequalities of the system."

In the 1950s Winnie started meeting young people from the African National Congress and became involved in South Africa’s liberation struggle. She became heavily involved in encouraging the women of South Africa to stand up and refuse to be subjected to the laws of apartheid. In 1957 she met Nelson Mandela and a year later they married.

In their early married life, Winnie grew accustomed to spending long periods away from her husband who was either touring townships, in hiding or in prison awaiting his trail. In 1962 when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life, Winnie Mandela assumed the responsibility of Nelson Mandela’s successor, eventually becoming known as the ‘Mother of the Nation’.

In 1969 she was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 17 months. Over the years she was banned and jailed on other minor charges. After being involved with the Soweto uprising in 1976, serving a half year sentence, and being banned from Soweto, Winnie Mandela became well known in the West and was promoted by the ANC as a symbol for the fight against apartheid.

In subsequent years, Winnie Mandela’s personal activities and public remarks have caused her to be in the center of much controversy. Despite the contentious aspects of her life, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela inspired generations of young black people to resist The System. Even though she is no longer politically affiliated with the ANC, she remains to be especially popular among South Africa’s poor.


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