For Black History Month we’re highlighting couples who made an indelible impact on history as a pairing. When we thought of “woke change-making couples”, we’d be remiss not to include two pillars of South Africa.
Nelson and Winnie Mandela met when Winnie Madikizela was working as a hospital social worker in the 1950s.
“I cannot say for certain if there is such a thing as love at first sight,” Madiba wrote in his biography about Winnie. “But I do know that the moment I first glimpsed Winnie Nomzamo, I knew that I wanted to have her as my wife.”
Nelson, a lawyer, and human rights activist, and Winnie had a marriage that survived all those 27 years Nelson was imprisoned. They were freedom fighters and were fearless and defiant in their pursuit to destroy South Africa’s policy and system of segregation.
While he was away, Winnie campaigned for his release and rallied International support for the anti-apartheid movement and later she was imprisoned too. In 1969, she was locked in solitary confinement for 491 days and tortured. Bloodied but unbowed she moved on and continued to fight.
On 11 February 1990, Winnie was by Nelson’s side when he walked free from prison and were hand in hand. With them back together it was clear that apartheid’s days were numbered. Still, they divorced in 1992 and Nelson became president of South Africa in 1994 without Winnie by his side.
As for Winnie she became a member of Parliament and served as deputy minister of arts and culture. And while controversy followed them both, this change-making couple is revered for their work in eradicating apartheid and still clearly remained bonded up until their respective deaths. Winnie was known to visit Nelson at the hospital alongside his wife Graca Machel Mandela before his passing in 2013.
When Winnie herself passed away in 2018 her homeland was in a deep state of mourning for their “Mother of the Nation.”
Today the Nelson Mandela Foundation has a key objective of finding sustainable solutions to the problems confronting humanity, in remembrance of the leader for which it’s named.