Nelson Mandela met Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela (Winnie Mandela) in 1957, through a mutual friend.
A social worker by training, Winnie married Nelson in 1958, three months after he divorced his first wife, Evelyn Mase.
As he had just been sanctioned for African National Congress (ANC) activism at the time, Nelson had to ask the apartheid government for a six-day reprieve of a banning order to attend his own wedding.
Five years after they were married, Nelson was arrested, sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Robben Island.
Winnie vowed to continue working to end apartheid. She became secretly involved with the ANC, taking over the megaphone of activism and becoming a force for keeping the ANC’s defiance campaign alive during Nelson’s incarceration.
Her criticism of the regime cemented her title as “Mother of the Nation.”
Like Nelson, Winnie too experienced solitary confinement, between 12 May 1969 and 14 September 1970. She also faced government monitoring, banning orders, detentions, political trials, house arrest, and banishment to a rural town.
From Nelson’s prison letters, he deeply regretted that he was not there to protect, assist and comfort Winnie, during his imprisonment.
The couple famously walked hand-in-hand as Nelson walked free from prison, in 1990, after twenty-seven years.
After Nelson became South Africa’s first black president, Winnie was named deputy minister of arts, culture, science, and technology.
However, twenty-seven years of separation and social turmoil had irrevocably damaged the Mandela marriage, and they separated in 1992.
They divorced in 1996, but Winnie kept Nelson’s surname and maintained ties with him.
Winnie always attended Nelson’s birthday on July 18, even after they had divorced, at his Qunu homestead or his Houghton residence.
Nelson and Winnie were the greatest symbols of the anti-apartheid struggle for nearly thirty years.
They had two daughters, Zenani (born 1958) and Zindziwa (born 1960).