Winnie Mandela Research Paper

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Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was Columbus and Gertrude Madikizela’s fifth child, born on September 26, 1936, in Pondoland Hills in Bizana (near Transkei), South Africa. Winnie’s father encouraged her to complete a diploma at the prestigious Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg. She became the first black female social worker at Baragwanath Hospital. She would later complete a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Witwatersrand. Winnie married political activist and leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on June 14, 1958. Winnie and Nelson moved to Soweto and immediately began a life together fighting the oppressive apartheid regime of South Africa. Winnie became actively involved in the ANC Women’s League and participated in protests against various obstructions to black South Africans’ freedom, including the requirement for blacks to carry “passes” in order to travel within the country. Blacks that were caught without passes could be subjected to abuse and jail time. Nelson and Winnie were under tremendous scrutiny by the South African government. Nelson left the country to avoid being arrested for treason. He was arrested upon his return for inciting black South African workers to strike and for leaving the country without proper traveling documents. In 1962, Nelson would begin a twenty-eight year incarceration.

Winnie worked for the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society and was continually placed under numerous bans for her suspected affiliation with ANC. She was fired from various jobs due to repeated harassment of her employers by South African police. She also faced consistent bans inhibiting her ability to raise her two children, Zeni and Zindzi. In 1970, Winnie was detained for 491 days in Pretoria Prison before being released on house arrest. Frequent threats against Winnie’s life, including a bomb explosion outside of her home, led her twelve-year-old daughter Zindzi to write a letter of appeal to the United Nations for her mother’s protection. Winnie would be arrested and jailed two additional times, in 1974 and in 1976, after the Soweto student uprising against Bantu education led to the police beating and killing of many children. Winnie was viewed as an instigator and was arrested under the Internal Security Act. Winnie became an executive member of the Federation of South African Women, the Black Parents Association, and continued supporting the efforts of the ANC. She inspired many black South Africans and was known as the “Mother of the Nation.” After her release from jail in 1976, she was banished for nine years to a remote black township known as Brandfort. For a time, she lived with no heat, no toilet, and no running water in a three-room shack she shared with Zindzi. Her eldest daughter, Zeni, married Prince Thumbumuzi of Swaziland in 1978.

Winnie was linked with radical factions of ANC during the 1980s and her legacy became tarnished by several key incidents, which eventually led to her divorce in 1996 from then President Nelson Mandela. The incidents centered around a group of bodyguards she formed, known as the Mandela United Football Club. Winnie was implicated in the murder of fourteen-year-old ANC activist James “Stompie” Moeketsi and numerous other beatings and deaths associated with the Football Club. When she appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Bishop Desmond Tutu (b. 1931) begged her to admit her mistakes and Winnie acquiesced with the words “things went horribly wrong.” She was convicted on 43 counts of fraud in 2003 and is considered a leading anti-apartheid activist and controversial figure around the world.


  1. Appiah, Kwame Anthony, and Henry Louis Gates, 2004. Africana: Civil Rights; An A-to-Z Reference of the Movement that Changed America. Philadelphia: Running Press.
  2. Harrison, Nancy. Winnie Mandela: Mother of a Nation. London: Victor Gollancz.
  3. Mandela, N 1994. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
  4. Wines, Michael. 2004. No Jail for Winnie Mandela. July 6. The New York Times.

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