Winnie Mandela Biography
Claim to Fame: South African anti-apartheid leader
DOB: September 26, 1936
Diabetes Type: Unknown
A prominent and controversial figure in South African anti-Apartheid politics, Winnie Mandela is the ex-wife of former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Nicknamed “Mother of the Nation,” Winnie is adored as an idol of liberation by many, while others label her as a convicted criminal and an arrogant adulterer. One thing is for sure, this member of the African National Congress is an object of controversy and fascination around the world — so much so, in fact, that an opera and film about her life are being produced.
Winnie was born in a rural South African village called Bizana, where she and her mother were ostracized because her father was European. She traveled throughout South Africa, living in Johannesburg, Shawbury, and Transkei. Despite her responsibilities to her family and the opposition from the apartheid government against blacks receiving education, Winnie attended the Jan Hofmeyer School in Johannesburg where she earned a degree in social work. She continued her education with a Bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. It was while she was living in Transkei that Winnie became active in politics while working various jobs for the Trankei government. In 1957, 22-year-old Winnie met Nelson Mandela, a lawyer and activist 18 years her senior. After a year, the two were married.
In 1963, her husband was charged with crimes of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. This began Winnie’s outspoken resistance to the white apartheid leaders. She was also regularly imprisoned by the apartheid government and was once held in solitary confinement for more than a year. Most notoriously, Winnie was accused of kidnapping and murdering 14 year-old James Seipei in 1988. Years later she was convicted of more than 40 charges of fraud.
In 1996, Nelson and Winnie divorced. According to Nelson, the marriage ended because Winnie was unfaithful to him while he was imprisoned. Following the divorce, Winnie was released from her position as Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, a position she held since the first post-Apartheid government, due to accusations of corruption and fraud. In 2003, Winnie was again charged with fraud and forced to resign from her position within the ANC and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2007, Winnie was elected to the ANC’s National Executive Committee. Despite her tumultuous record, Winnie maintains a significant following of supporters and is considered a hero by many.
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