A political powerhouse whose courage and steadfastness inspired women across the globe.This was one of the tributes that poured in on Monday as news of the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died at the age of 81, was received.ANC KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Interim Committee (PIC) co-ordinator, Sihle Zikalala also said, “She was one of the greatest freedom fighters who was not afraid to stand for what she believed was right. “She identified with the voice of the voiceless and the marginalised. We lost a champion and struggle hero.”Madikizela-Mandela, who died at Johannesburg’s Netcare Milpark Hospital on Monday afternoon following a long illness, had been in and out of hospital in recent months.Victor Dlamini, the family spokesperson, said Madikizela-Mandela, whom her supporters affectionately referred to as the “Mother of the Nation” was surrounded by family members as she died. “She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones,” he said.Despite the fact that she was an ANC member throughout her life, Madikizela-Mandela was respected across political lines.Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango said while Madikizela-Mandela had occupied several leadership positions within the ANC, many South Africans, including those from outside the ranks of the ruling party, respected her.“It is not questionable that she was the mother of the nation. Despite the fact that she was married to a prominent leader such as Nelson Mandela, she refused to remain just a housewife; she was at the forefront of the struggle. We believe that women of this country should learn a lot from her life,” he said.IFP Women’s Brigade national chairperson Thembeni kaMadlopha-Mthethwa said Madikizela-Mandela had remained an inspiration to women from all walks of life. “We are shocked by her death. We know her as an activist who dedicated her life to the struggle. She was there during difficult times when many leaders went to exile. “When Mandela was arrested, Madikizela-Mandela stood her ground and kept the light burning. She was arrested on several occasions but she did not give up,” she said.Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said: “Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was for many years a defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid.“She refused to be bowed by the imprisonment of her husband, the perpetual harassment of her family by security forces, detentions, bannings and banishment.“Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists. Leah and I send our heartfelt condolences to her daughters, grandchildren and extended family. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.”Locals also sent their condolences on Facebook. “Rest in power mama... the struggle continues,” Thembi Mntambo said. “How sad, may her soul rest in peace. She has always been a beautiful lady, even when she was old,” Neliswa Mntungwa said.While Madikizela-Mandela’s contribution to women’s emancipation and the liberation struggle in general has been acknowledged across the globe, she also had a dark side.Her critics had blamed her for encouraging the “necklacing” trend, a practice in the 80s where political activists would place a tyre around the neck of those they suspected of collaborating with apartheid police before dousing them with petrol and setting them alight.Madikizela-Mandela often encouraged the youth during rallies around Soweto in Johannesburg to use “boxes of matches and necklaces to liberate the country”.In 1991‚ she was convicted for her role in the kidnapping and assault of teenager Stompie Seipei, who was later found murdered.Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguards had been accused of abducting the then 14-year-old from the Johannesburg home of Methodist minister Paul Verryn.However, Madikizela-Mandela’s six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine and a suspended sentence on appeal.In 1995 Nelson Mandela, who at the time was the country’s president, fired Madikizela-Mandela as deputy minister of arts and culture for what was at the time described as “bad behaviour”.Madikizela-Mandela, who was again elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) following the 2009 general elections, had not reported to the National Assembly despite drawing a salary as an MP.News24 reported that a statement by her family read: “She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country. Her activism and resistance to apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions, eventually causing her banishment to the small town of Brandfort in the then Orange Free State ...“She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the Struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognisable faces. The Mandela family are deeply grateful for the gift of her life and even as our hearts break at her passing, we urge all those who loved her to celebrate this most remarkable woman.”The family will release details of the memorial and funeral services once these have been finalised.Brief background of Winnie MadikizelaWinnie Madikizela-Mandela was born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela on September 26, 1936. She became one of South Africa’s most celebrated anti-apartheid activists and a politician.She held several government positions, including as deputy minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. A member of the African National Congress (ANC), she served on the ANC’s National Executive Committee and headed its Women’s League.In 1985, Madikizela-Mandela won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award along with fellow activists Allan Boesak and Beyers Naudé for their human rights work in South Africa. The award is given annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to an individual or group whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy’s vision and legacy.She received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1988. — Witness Reporter.