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It was with deep sadness and extreme sense of loss that Nelson Mandela University received the news of the passing of one of the colossal figures of the struggle for the liberation of South Africa, Mama Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela-Mandela.

The Mother of the Nation, as she was affectionately known, was a stalwart in the fight for equality and played a substantial and momentous role in the liberation of the people of South Africa. Her courage, strength and tenacity saw her gallantly fight against the apartheid system that had for decades institutionally oppressed the majority of South Africans.

Born in Bizana, in the Eastern Cape, to working class teachers, Madikizela-Mandela showed exceptional leadership skills from a young age. She was head girl at her school, before going on to obtain a degree in social work at a time when there were irrational constrictions imposed by the apartheid system on the education of black people in general and, in particular, black women.

An inspirational trailblazer with a passion for the development of black communities, she turned down a scholarship to study abroad and instead took up a post as the first black qualified medical social worker at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital.

She earned the title “Mother of the Nation” when she heroically held the fort, often at great personal sacrifice and suffering, and continued the work that anti-apartheid activists, including her ex-husband Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders, had started before their infamous arrest on Robben Island.

At the height of resistance in the 1970’s, when the liberation struggle was taken up by the country’s young people, she became the mother figure to the surging student movement and has held a soft spot for youth activism even in her latter days. This is in part the reason she was admired and remained popular on University campuses, including ours.

Mama Winnie’s passing comes as Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill, Chairperson of the Nelson Mandela University Council, had just extended an invitation for her to attend the historic inauguration of the institution’s first black African female Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sibongile Muthwa, and Chancellor Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi later this month.

This was to honour and celebrate the contribution of women patriots to the development and building of South African institutions and the country itself, an achievement for which Mama Winnie has played no less an important and significant role in making it all possible.

Nelson Mandela University extends its heartfelt condolences to the Madikizela and Mandela extended families. To the South African nation as a whole, we say tutwini. Akuhlanga okungehliyo.

Nelson Mandela University

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777