Winnie Madikizela Mandela (centre) being sworn in as an MP in 2014. Photo: Supplied by GCIS.

Cape Town - The spirit of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela - mother, freedom fighter, women's rights activist and tireless champion of the defenceless - would remain alive in Parliament, its presiding officers said on Monday night.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise, in a statement, said they were shocked at news of Madikizela-Mandela's passing, saying the country and the world had lost a woman who "embodied the brave character of an unflinching woman in the wake of all odds against her". 

"She will be greatly missed, and Parliament trusts that together we will cherish and celebrate her life. Today we have indeed lost a great leader, a champion of freedom and development, a people’s hero, and a Mother, and a defender of the down-trodden," a statement from the two presiding officers said.

"Our Mother has not died, she has just passed on the baton to us, both men and women in Parliament, in government, and in the society at large, so that the ideals she lived and struggle for, can be realised in our lifetime."

Madikizela-Mandela became one of the founder members of South Africa's democratic Parliaement after the fall of the apartheid regime in 1994.

"As one of the pioneer Members of Parliament and our parliamentary democracy, Ma-Winnie, as she was affectionately known, paved the way for what Parliament of South Africa has since become," Mbete and Modise's statement said.

"Her vibrancy, unending inner and outer beauty, her passionate connection with ordinary citizens, and her witty and critical mind had contributed in keeping the critical solidarity of the women of South Africa in every facet of life." 

Madikizela-Mandela was an MP as well as first lady from 1994 to 1996 when she and Nelson Mandela, democratic South Africa's founding father, divorced.

She is survived by her and Mandela's two daughters, Zindziswa Mandela-Hlongwane and Zenani Mandela, as well as several grandchildren.

African News Agency/ANA