Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Mandela) – Africa’s Greatest Leader?

She has been described as Africa’s Greatest Leader. On Monday 2 April 2018, Africa lost its “greatest leader“. Was she great because she was daring activist, a bold politician with the trials and triumphs of an everyday wife and mother? What defines a great leader?

Five Fascinating Facts About Winnie Mandela

She earned a degree in social work in 1955. Winnie was the first qualified Black medical social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital and several years later earned a Bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Witwatersrand.

Winnie was working as a hospital social worker (she was barely 20 years) when she realized the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live in, created by the inequalities of the system. It is from this point that she strived to bring change and equality.

She not only fought against Apartheid, but also sexism. Madikizela-Mandela once said, “The overwhelming majority of women accept the patriarchy and protect it. Traditionally, the violated wife offloads her aggression onto the daughter-in-law. Men dominate women through the agency of women themselves.”

When Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1963, it would be the last time they would have physical contact for 27 years. Winnie took up the mantle, fighting against the white-majority and apartheid National Party while suffering imprisonment, torture, state surveillance, harassment and other indignities. 

When Mandela passed away in 2013 at 95-years of age, none of his $4.5 million fortune went to Madikizela-Mandela. The civil rights activist did not include his ex-wife in his will though he did set aside money for his children, grandchildren, staff, and his third wife. While Mandela and Madikizela-Mandela were married for 38 years, Mandela was in prison for 27 of them.


Winnie Mandela is by no way being painted as a virtuous and perfect role model but one cannot overlook her many achievements and inspiring firsts which shaped the social and political landscape of Africa and by extension, the world.