South Africa lost freedom struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who died in hospital on Sunday. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - "May she rest in peace and rise in glory." 

This was how Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu reacted to the news of the passing of Struggle icon, fierce anti-apartheid activist and former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who has died at the age of 81.

Across the nation, and from all political divides, condolences have been pouring in as people remember the Mother of the Nation, who died peacefully at the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg after a long illness.

Family spokesperson Victor Dlamini confirmed her death in a statement on Sunday afternoon saying she died peacefully.

“Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg, on Monday. She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year. She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon, surrounded by her family and loved ones,” he said.

Dlamini said Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid.

“She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country. Her activism and resistance to apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions, eventually causing her banishment to the small town of Brandfort in the then Orange Free State. She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one of its most recognisable faces. She dedicated most of her adult life to the cause of the people and for this was known far and wide as the Mother of the Nation,” he said.

Dlamini said they were deeply grateful for the gift of her life, “even as our hearts break at her passing”.

“We urge all those who loved her to celebrate this most remarkable woman,” he said.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said “what was really remarkable was her fight for former president Mandela to keep him out of jail. Even when he was in jail, she still kept fighting. She has cared for many people and had a heart of gold. Our nation has lost a great legend, because it is because of her fight and those of many others that we can live in freedom. We today must take this battle forward and ensure that everyone tastes democracy.”

Tutu added that Madikizela-Mandela was for many years a defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid. “She refused to be bowed by the imprisonment of her husband, the perpetual harassment of her family by security forces, detentions, bannings and banishment. Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists. Leah and I send our heartfelt condolences to her daughters, grandchildren and extended family,” Tutu said.

The presiding officers of Parliament, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise said that, as a struggle icon in her own right during years of colonial and apartheid repression, “Madikizela-Mandela had carved her niche role in shaping the struggle for freedom and in efforts to realise the new free and democratic South Africa. She defied the repressive laws and associated patriarchy, embodied a brave character of an unflinching woman in the wake of all odds against her throughout her life. She was a solid rock, a defender of the vulnerable and defenceless”.

The SA National Civic Organisation said Madikizela-Mandela would be remembered as a liberation struggle icon and true revolutionary who had made an invaluable contribution towards the building of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa as a human rights activist and anti-apartheid leader.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation extended its condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Madikizela-Mandela. “It is with sadness that we received the news of Comrade Winnie’s passing after a period of illness that saw her in and out of hospital,” said the foundation’s executive director, Neeshan Balton.

Cosatu national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said, while many ANC leaders wanted praise for being incarcerated or going into exile during the fight against apartheid oppression, Madikizela-Mandela had led and sustained the battle for liberation in the country.

“We mourn the death of Mama Winnie. If there is one thing we all agree on in this country is that we are all indebted to her. This is the person who, when everyone had been chased out of the country, when all our political parties were going into exile and when the leadership of this country, was fighting for liberation she kept the fires burning and kept the people of South Africa mobilised.”

EFF leader Julius Malema tweeted a photo of Madikizela-Mandela indicating that he was mourning.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane tweeted: “It’s with great sadness to learn of the passing of Mama Winnie Mandela. She was truly an incredible struggle hero. She played her role in the liberation of the people of SA. Indeed, May Her Soul Rest In Peace. She finished the course, ran the race. Africa mourns her today.”

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said on Twitter: “Winnie Mandela passed on. Our condolences to the family, ANC and friends. Your contribution in the struggle is well documented. We are today free because of people like her. Rest In Peace.”

Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare, said she died peacefully after a prolonged illness.

“Mandela was surrounded by her family and loved ones. On behalf of Netcare we express our deep sorrow at the passing of Mrs Mandela, the mother of our nation, a heroine and struggle icon, who devoted her life to the liberation of South Africa. Our thoughts and prayers are with her daughters and family at this sad time,” he said.

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Cape Argus