Struggle hero Winnie Mandela dead at 81

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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, prominent anti-apartheid activist and the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, died in a hospital on Monday after a long illness at the age of 81.

Famously pictured hand-in-hand as Nelson Mandela walked free from prison after 27 years, the couple was a symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle for almost three decades before her reputation became tainted legally and politically, the BBC reported.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela " It is with profound sadness that we inform the public that Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday", said a statement issued by her family.

Madikizela-Mandela and her husband, Nelson Mandela, fought against apartheid for decades.

And when that happened, the words "till death do us part" came to Winnie's mind, she said, as she harked back to that day in June 1958 when she married Mandela.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN. Her title as mother of the nation started her in Orlando.

In 2011, Madikizela-Mandela was the subject of a Hollywood biopic starring Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson, along with an opera that premiered in Pretoria, South Africa.

The ANC Women's League (ANCWL) has expressed shock and devastation over the death of Madikizela-Mandela. Her marriage to Mr Mandela broke down in the years after his release and they were divorced in 1996.

Her bodyguards were accused of the disappearances and killings of at least 18 boys and young men.

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She appealed and was found guilty of being an accessory in the assault, and the sentence was reduced to a fine and a suspended prison term.

In 1991 she was convicted of ordering the 1988 kidnapping of four youths in Soweto.

"Love her or judge her, we can not take away the fact that she had been an embodiment of complexities and she rose gallantry above the situation to carve a niche for herself".

Charming, intelligent, complex, fiery and eloquent, Madikizela-Mandela (Madikizela was her surname at birth) was inevitably known to most of the world through her marriage to the revered Mandela.

Ramaphosa said that Nelson Mandela's former wife was a "voice of defiance" against white-minority rule.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela always was aware of the danger of being overshadowed by her husband's all-encompassing personality, and she vowed not to lose herself.

She stood up against oppression and was one of the most recognizable faces of the liberation struggle. Many leaders within the ANC had been forced into exile for fear of losing their lives, murdered or imprisoned alongside her husband.

The conviction appeared to end her career: she quit Parliament and resigned from her posts as president of the ANC Woman's League and a member of the party's executive committee. As she saw it, her role was to stiffen the confrontation with the authorities.

"And he shed tears to say that "we have made a decision to separate".