JOHANNESBURG • Ms Winnie Mandela, 81, South African anti-apartheid activist and ex-wife of former president Nelson Mandela, died peacefully yesterday following a long illness, a family spokesman said.
"She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year," Mr Victor Dlamini said in a statement.
Ms Mandela, who was married to Mr Mandela for 38 years, played a key part in the campaign to end white-minority rule but her place in history was also stained by controversy.
Hailed as mother of the "new" South Africa, Ms Mandela's legacy as an anti-apartheid heroine was undone when she was revealed to be a ruthless ideologue prepared to sacrifice laws and lives in pursuit of revolution and redress.
Her uncompromising methods and refusal to forgive contrasted sharply with the reconciliation espoused by her then husband, Mr Mandela, as he worked to forge a stable, pluralistic democracy from the racial division and oppression of apartheid.
The contradiction helped kill their marriage and destroyed the esteem in which she was held by many South Africans, although the firebrand activist retained the support of radical black nationalists to the end.
Most of her marriage with Mr Mandela was spent apart, with her husband imprisoned for 27 years, leaving her to raise their two daughters alone and to keep alive his political dream under the repressive white-minority regime.
In 1990, the world watched when Mr Mandela finally walked out of prison - hand in hand with Ms Mandela.
But they separated just two years later and divorced in 1996 after a legal wrangle that revealed her affair with a young bodyguard.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE