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Remembering Zindzi Mandela

Zindzi Mandela

Tributes are continuing to pour in after the death of Zindziswa Mandela. The second daughter of Nelson Mandela and Mam’ Winnie Madikizela passed away in a Johannesburg hospital in the early hours of Monday morning. She was 59 years old.

Who was Zindzi Mandela?

At the time of her passing Zindzi (as she was affectionately known) was serving as the South African ambassador to Denmark, a role she held from 2015. She was also designated to become South Africa’s Head of Mission in Monrovia, Liberia. 

Before joining the country’s diplomatic corps, Zindzi rose to prominence as a young struggle hero. She followed in her parents’ footsteps and continued the fight against apartheid when they were not able to because of imprisonment and banning orders. In 1985, when she was just 25 years old, Zindzi stood before thousands of South Africans in Soweto where she bravely read out a letter written by Mandela, who was jailed at the time, outlining his refusal to accept then President PW Botha’s offer of a conditional release

Watch her read the letter of refusal here:

When Mandela was first sent to prison in 1962, Zindzi was only 18 months; she was just four years old when the Rivonia Trials ended in 1964 and her father was sentenced to life in prison, to be served on Robben Island. She lived with her mother Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who in 1977 was banned by the apartheid government to Brandfort in the Orange Free State Province for eight years. Her parents’ involvement in politics disrupted her schooling. She, however, completed her secondary education at Waterford ka Mahlaba school in eSwatini (then Swaziland). She studied at the University of Cape Town and graduated in 1985 with a degree in BA Law. Some of her other notable involvements include serving as president of the Soweto Youth Congress, being a member of the Release Mandela Campaign. She was also an underground operative of Umkhonto weSizwe. She was also the founder of the Mandela Legacy and author of Black As I Am.

The family

Zindzi Mandela was one of Nelson Mandela’s six children. Throughout his long life, Mandela married three women. 

1. Mandela married Evelyn Ntoko Mase in 1944. The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. They were 

  1. Madiba Thembekile Mandela, his eldest son, was born in 1945. In a sad twist, he also died on 13 July – in 1969, when he was just 24 years old. 
  1. Makaziwe Mandela, a girl, was born in 1948 but died nine months later. 
  1. Magkatho Lewanika Mandela, a son, was born in 1950 and died on 6 January 2005 when he was 55 years old.  
  1. Pumla Makaziwe Mandela, the last surviving child from this marriage, was born in 1954 and was named after her late older sister Makaziwe.

Mandela’s marriage to Evelyn Mase lasted 14 years. He divorced her in March 1958. She died in 2004. 

2. While the divorce proceedings were underway. Mandela was courting a young social worker. Her name was Winifred Nomzamo Zanyiwe Madikizela – the woman many South Africans came to call Mam’ Winnie Mandela. The couple married on 14 June 1958. They would later become known as the “power couple” of the struggle for their joint efforts to end apartheid. They had two daughters. 

  1. Zenani Dlamini was born in 1959. She narrowly avoided being born in a prison: Winnie Mandela was arrested while heavily pregnant but released before giving birth. Zenani is 61 years old and, like her younger sister, a diplomat. She is also now the only surviving child of Mandela’s second marriage. 
  1. Zindzi Mandela, who was born in 1960, and died on 13 July 2020.

Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela ended their marriage in March 1996,  two years after South Africa entered into a democracy. George Bizos, who was among the lawyers defending Mandela at the Rivonia Trial and became a friend to the statesman, wrote of the Mandela-Madikizela marriage coming under great strain in the 1990s. Mandela had distanced himself from Winnie Mandela after she was put on trial for the alleged abduction and assault of a group of boys in 1988. She was also linked to the murder of 14-year-old Stompie Sepei, though she was never formally charged with this; she was charged with and convicted of kidnapping Seipei. Mandela also accused Winnie of committing infidelity while he was in prison. Winnie Madikizela- Mandela remained a powerful political figure until her death on 2 April 2018.  

3. Mandela’s third and final marriage was to Graça Machel on 18 July 1998, the same day as his birthday. Machel is a Mozambican politician and humanitarian. The pair were still married at the time of Mandela’s death on 5 December 2013. 

Zindzi Mandela, a giant voice and memorable figure of our history is survived by her four children and husband. 

Thank you Mam. Hamba Kahle.