Winnie Madikizela-Mandela dead: Apartheid crusader and wife of Nelson Mandela dies aged 81

South African apartheid crusader and wife of Nelson Mandela Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died at the age of 81.

A family statement said that the apartheid campaigner died in Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year.

She was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years.

Although she fervently campaigned to challenge the apartheid, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that she “fell from grace” and was “widely reviled as homophobic“.

“Winnie Mandela was a heroine who fell from grace. When Nelson Mandela was in prison, she bravely kept his name and plight in the public consciousness, despite her own persecution by the state.

She supported the black gay activist Simon Nkoli when he was in prison and on trial for treason over his involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s. Nkoli was good friends with Winnie’s daughters and they, too, rallied to his defence,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

“Things went badly wrong when Winnie’s supporters murdered 14-year-old anti-apartheid activist Stompie Moeketsi in 1989, allegedly because he was a police informer and allegedly on her orders.

Winnie was found guilty of kidnapping Stompie and being an accessory to the assault on him. Winnie’s defence during her trial included insinuations that Stompie was involved in homosexual acts, which she said were unAfrican.

Stompie had angered Winnie by refusing to testify that a local pastor, who Winnie opposed, was a paedophile. Her reputation never recovered. From then onwards, she was widely reviled as homophobic and a killer,” he added.

Nelson Mandela was a Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the battle against white-minority rule in South Africa, of which he was the first black president, elected in 1994 after 27 years in prison on Robben Island.

After the Civil Union Act came into effect in South Africa on 30 November 2006, the island became one of the first places to host a civil union ceremony.

Mr Zuma said: “He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 20:50 on the 5th December 2013,

“He is now resting, he is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day would come nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.

His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family.

To them we owe a debt of gratitude. They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free.”

The legendary human rights campaigner helped push for equality for gay South Africans, and helped to make South Africa the continent of Africa’s first and so far only country with same-sex marriage.

He declined his second term in 1999, instead focussing his time on work combating HIV and AIDS, and poverty through his charitable foundation.