South Africa's 'Mother of the Nation,' dies at 81

Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela dies aged 81

But beyond being a firebrand politician and the ex-wife of the late former president, who was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela?

It was Mr. Mandela's third marriage.

Mandela family spokesman‚ Victor Dlamini‚ said: "It is with profound sadness that we inform the public that Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital‚ Johannesburg‚ South Africa on Monday April 2‚ 2018".

Madikizela-Mandela commanded a constituency of her own among South Africa's poor and dispossessed, and the post-apartheid leaders who followed Mandela could never ignore her appeal to a broad segment of society.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela transitioned early today in Johannesburg, South Africa after a brief doctor's visit over the weekend.

Her personal assistant‚ Zodwa Zwane‚ first confirmed Madikizela-Mandela's death on Monday afternoon.

However, in later years her reputation became tainted legally and politically. As South Africans, we collectively pass our condolences to the Madikizela and Mandela families. "It was the best marriage I ever had", she often said.

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During December's ANC conference Winnie Mandela hugs Cyril Ramaphosa and then-President Jacob Zuma, left.

Throughout the height of apartheid, she remained at the forefront of the battle, urging others to carry on the fight "to the bitter end" - and she later became known as the "Mother of the Nation".

"She had campaigned for 27 long years for his release".

The SABC said she was admitted to the hospital over the weekend complaining of the flu after she attended a church service on Friday.

Mourners gather outside Winnie Mandela's house.

Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was born to a noble family of the Xhosa-speaking Pondo tribe in Transkei. The couple were divorced in 1996, two years after Nelson Mandela became South Africa's President.

In 1977, she was banished to a remote town, Brandfort, where neighbors were forbidden to speak to her. She was immovable, unshakeable and committed to seeing the liberation of her people even if that meant putting herself in the line of fire time and again.

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"She was a woman who was known by everybody in Soweto - as well as in Africa and outside".

In her book "100 Years of Struggle: Mandela's ANC", Heidi Holland suggested that Madikizela-Mandela was "perhaps driven half-mad by security police harassment". "May her soul rest in peace".

In 1986, she was widely linked to "necklacing", when suspected traitors were burnt alive by a petrol-soaked auto tire being put over their head and set alight.

Her notoriety was reinforced by a speech in 1986 when she declared that "with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country".

In 2003, Ms Madikizela-Mandela suffered another blow when a court convicted her of fraud and theft in connection with a bank loan scandal.

Mandela, approaching 40 and the father of three, declared on their first date that he would marry her. Nelson Mandela died in 2013.

'The years of imprisonment hardened me, ' she said. "And he shed tears to say that we have made a decision to separate".

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