South African civil-rights activist, former wife of Nelson Mandela. A leading spokesperson for the African National Congress (ANC) during Nelson Mandela's imprisonment 1964–90, in 1991 she received a six-year prison sentence for her role in the kidnapping of a township youth. This sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal and in May 1994, following the ANC's victory in the country's first universal-suffrage elections, she was given a deputy ministerial post in the new government. In 1995 she was dismissed from her cabinet post, following allegations of dereliction of duty. In 2003 she was found guilty of fraud in relation to a bank loan scandal, and, on appeal, was given a three and a half year suspended sentence. In 2007, she backed Jacob Zuma in his successful campaign to replace Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader and in the 2009 general election returned to parliament as an ANC MP.
Actively involved in promoting the ANC's cause during her husband's long imprisonment, she was jailed in 1969–70 and put under house arrest several times. She became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid and a rallying point for young, radical township activists. In 1989 she was accused of being behind the abduction by her bodyguards of four youths, one of whom, Stompie Seipei, was later murdered. She was convicted of kidnapping and assault, and given a six-year jail sentence in May 1991, which was reduced to a fine on appeal in 1993.
In April 1992 she and Nelson Mandela separated after 33 years of marriage. In the same year she resigned from her ANC posts, including her seat on the ANC National Executive Committee. She was appointed minister for arts, culture, science, and technology in May 1994, but after allegations of corruption, including the handing out of government contracts in return for kickbacks, she was relieved of her post. In March 1996 her divorce from Nelson Manela was finalized.
Born in Bizana village in the Transkei, she moved to Johannesburg in 1953 to study and then began a career in social work. She met Nelson Mandela in 1957. He was a lawyer, leader of the ANC, 18 years older and married at the time. After his divorce, she married Nelson Mandela in 1958 and moved with him to Soweto. Following his imprisonment with a life sentence in 1964, she raised their two children and became increasingly politically active, despite constant harassment by the South African security police. In 1969 she was jailed for 18 months for anti-apartheid activities and in 1976 was banished to a rural area by the apartheid authorities.
Public hearings before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Winnie Mandela's alleged involvement in at least six murders in the late 1980s were held in early December 1997. Despite damning evidence provided by many and varied witnesses, Mandela denied all the allegations and shifted the blame to the media and her political opponents. Although it became obvious during the hearings that most of the charges against her would not stand up in court, and she did not admit responsibility for any of the crimes she was charged with, the special public hearings did have a negative effect on her political standing. Four days after the end of the hearings ANC sources claimed that the Women's League had withdrawn its nomination of Mrs Mandela for the deputy presidency.
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