Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg on Monday, April 2 after a long illness.
Victor Dlamini, a spokesperson for the Mandela family confirmed in a media statement.
Born in Bizana in the Eastern Cape in 1936‚ Madikizela-Mandela moved to Johannesburg to study social work after matriculating.
In 1957, she met lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela and they married a year later and had two children together.
The marriage was short-lived‚ as he was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. Mandela was eventually released in 1990.
During Mandela’s time in prison‚ Madikizela-Mandela was not spared from the brutality of apartheid forces. She was placed under house arrest and at one time banished, along with her infant daughter Zindzi, to Brandfort, a town in the Free State. In 1969‚ Madikizela-Mandela became one of the first detainees under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act of 1967. She was detained for 18 months in solitary confinement in a condemned cell at Pretoria Central Prison before being charged under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950.
The picture of her hand-in-hand with Mandela as he walked free from prison after 27 years, became one of the most recognisable symbols of the anti-apartheid struggle.
The Mandela family says it will release details of the memorial and funeral services once these have been finalised.