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Mandela accused her of infidelity, and they divorced in 1996, two years after he was elected the first black president of South Africa.
At the time of Madikizela-Mandela’s death, the longtime stalwart of the ruling party was a member of South Africa’s parliament.
Ramaphosa described her as “an advocate for the dispossessed and the marginalized” and “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 said 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.”
Born in 1936 in what is now known as Eastern Cape province, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela was the daughter of a history teacher.
As a 22-year-old social worker, she married Nelson Mandela in 1958, and stood by him in the years following his 1964 conviction and life imprisonment for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
She led an international campaign calling for his release.
Outside Africa, she was known largely because of her one-time husband, but in South Africa she was the mouthpiece and face of the bitter struggle against the racist regime.
Although Madikizela-Mandela helped usher in a new, more equitable South African political system during her lifetime, she was also entangled in a number of scandals over the years.
Her reputation was tainted by accusations of human rights violations that seemed sometimes at odds with Mandela’s fight for inclusiveness. She was also accused of theft and kidnapping, which she denied.