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South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former wife of Nelson Mandela became mired in controversy

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist and former wife of Nelson Mandela, has died peacefully 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,” Victor Dlamini said in a statement. “She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”

“She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country,” the statement continued. “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 its most recognisable faces.”

Madikizela-Mandela was jailed several times for her part in the fight against white-minority rule and she campaigned for the release of her husband at home and abroad.

But her marriage to Mandela began to fall apart in the years after he was released from prison in 1990. The couple divorced in 1996, nearly four decades after they were married. They had two children.

Hailed as mother of the “new” South Africa, Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy as an anti-apartheid heroine was undone when she was accused of being 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 husband as he worked to forge a stable, pluralistic democracy from the racial division and oppression of apartheid.

The contradictioncontributed to ending 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.

In her twilight years, Madikizela-Mandela had frequent run-ins with authority that further undermined her reputation as a fighter against the white-minority regime that ran Africa’s most advanced economy from 1948 to 1994.

During her husband’s 27-year incarceration, Madikizela-Mandela campaigned tirelessly for his release and for the rights of black South Africans.

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