South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Nomzamo Zaniewe Winnifred (Winnie) Mandela

(September 26, 1934 - )

Winnie was born in 1934 at Bizana in Pondoland, Transkei. She trained as a social worker and thereafter took up a post as the first African medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital. In 1957, during the Defiance Campaign she met Nelson Mandela, then a leader of the campaign who later became her husband. Together they had two children. In 1962, Winnie was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act and was restricted to the Orlando township in Soweto. She however repeatedly flauted this order and as a result was charged on many occasions. In 1969 she was detained under the Terrorism Act and was placed in solitary confinement for 17 months. In 1970 she was placed under house arrest.

During the 1976 uprisings, she established the Black Women’s Federation and the Black Parents’ Association but she was detained under the Internal Security Act and in 1977 banished to Brandfort in the Orange Free State where she helped set up a crèche and a clinic with Dr. Abu Baker Asvat. She returned to her home in 1986 and resumed her ANC activities, which again led to further detentions. Winnie’s opposition to PW Botha’s regime earned her the title of “Mother of the Nation”. In 1991 after the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations, she was elected into the ANC’s National Executive Committee. She was also elected president of the ANC’s Women’s League, a position which she still holds.

After the 1994 elections Winnie was appointed deputy minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology but was dismissed by Nelson Mandela following allegations of financial mismanagement. Her termination has also been linked to her criticism of South African Government misuse of funds in entertaining the British Queen Elizabeth. Since then Winnie’s life has been steeped in controversy, from the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission’s (TRC) hearings on her role in the abduction of Stompie Sepei who was subsequently found murdered. She received a six-year sentence that was reduced on appeal to a fine of R15 000. Despite the continuing controversy, Winnie still remains a Member of Parliament and is still on of the champions of the poor in South African politics, commanding a staunch following.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
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