Winnie Mandela leading a march in Cape Town

Rashid Lombard/AFP/Getty Images1990-02-02

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
Washington, DC, United States

The “Mother of the Nation,” she was a symbol of the best and the worst in the struggle.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
1936–2018, b. Mbizana, South Africa
Worked in Soweto

To those who oppose us, we say, “Strike the woman, and you strike the rock.”
—Winnie Mandela, 1966 [source?]

Together, hand in hand, with our matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.
—Winnie Mandela, 1986 (alluding to the notorious practice of lighting a gasoline-soaked tire placed around an opponent’s head)

• Trained as a social worker, Winnie Madikizela met Nelson Mandela in 1956 and became his second wife two years later.
• During the 27 years of Mandela’s imprisonment, Madikizela-Mandela was continually harassed by the government, facing banning orders, travel restrictions, internal exile, and 17 months in jail.
• Throughout her husband’s long imprisonment, she remained a resilient symbol of resistance, keeping his memory and message alive in South Africa and beyond.
• The kidnapping and beating of four young activists and the murder of Stompie Seipei in 1988 forever damaged her reputation. She was convicted of kidnapping in 1991, though the sentence was later reduced. The Mandelas officially separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
• Later in life, Madikizela-Mandela swung between moments of achievement and disrepute. She was a deputy minister in the first democratic government but resigned under corruption charges. Elected then as a member of Parliament, she was convicted of theft and fraud. She was reportedly at Mandela’s side with his third wife, Graça Machel, as he lay dying in 2013, but later sued (and lost) his estate for control of his home.


  • Title: Winnie Mandela leading a march in Cape Town
  • Creator: Rashid Lombard/AFP/Getty Images
  • Date Created: 1990-02-02
  • Location Created: Cape Town, South Africa

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