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Winnie Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela, dies at 81

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Winnie Mandela, the former wife of South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, died on Monday at the age of 81, triggering an outpouring of tributes to one of the country’s defining and most divisive figures.

She died in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness, family spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement.

Winnie Mandela, who was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, played a high-profile role in the struggle to end white-minority rule but her place in history was stained by controversy and accusations of violence. (AFP)


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African women join in a demonstration in South Africa, Aug. 16, 1962, demanding the release of Nelson Mandela, former secretary of the banned African National Congress, who appeared in court on a charge of incitement. The women, together with Winnie Mandela, chanted “Down with Verwoerd” on the steps of the Johannesburg City Hall. (Photo: Dennis Lee Royle/AP)

Sen. Edward Kennedy made an emotional visit to banned Mrs. Winnie Mandela, who is the wife of Africa National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela in Brandfort, South Africa, on Jan 9, 1985. Nelson Mandela has been in prison for more than 20 years. The senator said that Winnie Mandela was courageous and concerned for her country. (Photo: Greg English/Reuters)

Winnie Mandela, with daughters Dlamini, left, and Zinzi, right, arrives at Cape Town’s airport on Sept. 11, 1985, on her way to visit her imprisoned husband, anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. (Photo: Greg English/AP)

Winnie Mandela in traditional dress circa 1986. (Photo: David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Activist Winnie Mandela raises a clenched fist after appearing briefly in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Jan. 22, 1986. Mrs. Mandela, who was held by police in Soweto on Sunday for defying her banning order, was released on her own recognizance and ordered to appear in the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court, west of Johannesburg. (Photo: Greg English/AP)

Winnie Mandela, black activist and wife of jailed South African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, carries the coffin of William Kotoyi at his funeral in Brandfort, South Africa, on April 5, 1986. In a speech there, she called for full sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid policies. (Photo: AP)

Winnie Mandela at an ANC rally in Soweto circa 1986. (Photo: Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images)

Winnie Mandela and Coretta Scott King, Sept. 1, 1986. (Photo: David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Winnie Mandela, wife of jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, announces plans for an open-air pop concert near Soweto to celebrate her husband’s 70th birthday on July 17, 1988. (Photo: John Parkin/AP)

Winnie Mandela, left, talks to recently released ANC leader Walter Sisulu, right, whose son Zwelakhe, editor of the New Nation newspaper under a banning order, may not attend public functions or work as a journalist, at a press conference on Nov. 11, 1989, on the possible suspension of the New Nation by the government. (Photo: Anna Zieminski/AP)

ANC leader Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie raising fists upon his release on Feb. 2, 1990, from Victor Verster prison after 27 years. (Photo: Allan Tannenbaum/The Life Images Collection/Getty Images)

Former U.S. presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, second from left, and Nelson Mandela, second from right, look on as their wives, Winnie Mandela, left, and Jacqueline Jackson hold hands when the Jacksons visited he Mandelas’ Soweto home in South Africa on Feb. 15, 1990. Mandela was released from prison on Feb. 2, 1990, after serving over 27 years. (Photo: Greg English/AP)

Winnie Mandela, right, raises her fist to cheer the crowd as Jacqueline Jackson, wife of Jesse Jackson, left, applauds her during a church service on June 24, 1990, in Washington. The service honored South African women. (Photo: Jeff Markowitz/AP)

Winnie Mandela, left, wife of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, right, arrives at the Johannesburg Supreme Court on Feb. 5, 1991, where Mrs. Mandela is facing charges of kidnapping and assault. (Photo: John Parkin/AP)

Winnie Mandela, left, wife of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, center right, leaves the Rand Supreme Court on Feb. 13, 1991, after an adjournment after two key state witnesses, fearing for their safety, refused to testify in the case in which Mrs. Mandela is charged with kidnapping and assault. (Photo: AP)

President Nelson Mandela, right, kisses his wife, Winnie Mandela, at a rally in Cape Town in early 1993. Divorce proceedings between the couple began in Johannesburg’s Rand Supreme Court on March 18, 1996, with President Mandela accusing his wife of adultery. (Photo: Benny Gool/AP)

Winnie Mandela, left, estranged wife of Nelson Mandela, salutes supporters while attending a funeral for a slain civic leader on, March 11, 1995 in Tembisa, South Africa. Embroiled in a corruption scandal that may cost her cabinet post, Winnie Mandela said she had not fought against apartheid to be treated as a criminal. Mrs. Mandela was attending the funeral of a squatter camp leader shot last week after voicing support for her in a television interview. (Photo: John Moore/AP)

Winnie Mandela dances outside Parliament after the approval of South Africa’s new constitution on May 8, 1996. Despite fears that parties would not reach the required two-thirds consensus, the draft was passed with only 10 votes against it. Others are unidentified. (Photo: Mike Hutchings/pool/AP)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, and her daughter Zinzi talk during a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 2, 1997. The commission is investigating human rights abuses alledgedly committed by Madikizela-Mandela during the apartheid era. (Photo: Juda Ngwenya,Pool/AP)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela meets voters during a tour in Flagstaff, South Africa, on May 20, 1999. Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, the most likely presidential candidate to succeed retiring President Nelson Mandela, said Thursday there would be no repeat of the violence that marred the first democratic election in 1994 when black and white South Africans vote together for the second time on June 2. (Photo: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

Wife of the former South African President Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, center, leads a march during a “Women’s Day” rally in Pretoria on Aug. 9, 2000. (Photo: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela, greets demonstrators behind razor wire at a bail hearing for businessman Piet Odendaal in Viljoenskroon, in the Orange Free State, South Africa, Nov. 10, 2000. Odendaal was accused of murdering a black employee and dragging his body behind a truck in the nearby town of Sasolburg. (Photo: Lori Waselchuk/AP)

African National Congress (ANC) Womens League President Winnie Madikizela-Mandela greets supporters at the closing rally of the 51st National Conference of the ruling ANC on Dec. 20, 2002.<br /> Madikizela-Mandela was elected to a new term on the top decision-making body of the ANC, the National Executive Committee, along with both the secretary general and deputy secretary general of the South African Communist Party. (Photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Former South African President Nelson Mandela with his former wife Winnie Mandela, right, and current wife Graca Machel at the ANC Madiba 90th Birthday Celebrations on Aug. 2, 2008, in Tshwane, South Africa. (Photo: Michelly Rall/WireImage via Getty Images)

The youth leader of South Africa’s ruling party, Julius Malema, second from left, and former wife of South African icon Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, stand next to an armed bodyguard, outside the court in Johannesburg on April 21, 2011. Malema said that singing “Shoot the Farmer” does not incite violence during a hate speech trial that has captivated the nation. Afriforum, a lobby that sees itself as the voice of white Afrikaners, wants the song banned as hate speech in its suit against Malema. (Photo: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

Former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, center, and daughter Zindzi Mandela, left, leave the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela was being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 14, 2013. (Photo: Ben Curtis/AP)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and her daughter Zindzi attend a prayer service for the ailing Mandela at a church in Johannesburg, July 5, 2013. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, is given copies to sign during a celebratory event for the release of her book, “491 Days,” on Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, Nelson Mandela’s former wife, and South African President Jacob Zuma attend a memorial service for Mandela at the Bryanston Methodist Church near Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 8, 2013. (Photo: Peter Dejong/AP)

Winnie Mandela, second from right, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, views his coffin as he lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013. (Photo: Kim Ludbrook/Pool/Reuters)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, center, the former wife of late South African leader Nelson Mandela, casts her vote at a polling station near his old house in the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa, May 7, 2014. (Photo: Ben Curtis/AP)

Struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela with President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, during the African National Congress national policy conference on July 1, 2017, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference is a gathering of about 3,500 delegates from branches across the country to discuss the party’s policies. (Photo: Muntu Vilakazi/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Winnie Madikizela Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, gestures to supporters at the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 16, 2017. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)