As Zindzi Mandela’s family reels, SA mourns a ‘special soul’
She’ll be remembered as a foot soldier who ‘picked up her mother’s banner and kept her spirit alive’
A pastor close to the Mandela family says they are heartbroken and struggling to come to terms with the death of Zindziswa “Zindzi” Nobutho Mandela, 59, in a Johannesburg hospital in Monday morning.
Bishop Gary Rivas from the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, who had known the Mandela family for more than 15 years, said he had met them at their Soweto home in the morning.
“The family is really struggling with coming to terms with Zindzi’s death. The children are taking it hard and the family still has a lot of questions‚” Rivas said.
He said the mother of four, who was the youngest daughter of Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, died at about 5am at Morningside Clinic in Sandton. The cause of her death has not been disclosed.
Rivas‚ who was involved in the funeral arrangements for Madikizela-Mandela‚ said he would remember Zindzi as a strong icon in the movement.
“She was the one who picked up her mother’s banner and kept the spirit of her mom alive. She was determined and a foot soldier on the ground. She never allowed her surname to get to her‚” said Rivas.
She died on the same day that Nelson Mandela’s son Thembekile died in 1969. Thembekile was 24 when he was killed in a car accident in Cape Town. Mandela had already been imprisoned on Robben Island when Thembi died and was denied permission to attend the funeral.
“For the 27 years that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned‚ his family – wife Winnie Mandela and daughters Zindzi and Zenani – played a critical role symbolising the humanity and steadfastness of the anti-apartheid struggle,” said the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.
“With Zindzi’s death‚ aged just 59‚ South Africa loses an important generational link connecting our divided history to the promise of better‚ more inclusive‚ tomorrows.”
The Tutu foundation said Zindzi was regarded by many as a child of the nation.
“She accompanied her mother into banishment at Brandfort‚ and visited her father on Robben Island from the age of 16.
“In 1985‚ with SA in the depths of a brutally enforced state of emergency‚ Zindzi’s speech in Soweto‚ on behalf of her father‚ rejecting PW Botha’s offer of a conditional release‚ reinvigorated the values and principles of the struggle.”
Nelson Mandela Foundation spokesperson Luzuko Koti said that when thinking back on her life the foundation was reminded of that summer’s day at Jabulani Stadium in Soweto.
In 1985 State President PW Botha offered Nelson Mandela his freedom on condition that he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. His daughter Zindzi in turn read out his rejection letter to a mass gathering in Soweto.
The foundation also recalled “her own courageous work in underground structures”.
“We will also remember her as a special soul‚” Koti said.
Born on December 23 1960 in Soweto‚ she was just 18 months old when her father was imprisoned and sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island after the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial in 1964.
She lived with her mother Winnie‚ who in 1977 was banned by the apartheid government to Brandfort in the Free State for eight years. Zindzi was sent to Swaziland‚ where she finally finished her secondary education‚ before returning to SA where she completed a BA law degree at the University of Cape Town in 1985.
Relying only on pictures of her father her mother would show her‚ Zindzi often spoke about growing up without a father‚ describing him as “mythical”.
In a 2008 interview with Al Jazeera‚ she recalled meeting him for the first time when she visited him in prison with her mother.
“I was 15 when I went. I was nervous. I was aware he was someone important. Every time people heard this is Mandela’s daughter there was some kind of reaction‚ either negative or people would be afraid or emotional. He was very mythical to me. I couldn’t relate to him as a father. I was very emotional. It was a very strange first meeting‚” she said.
According to Koti‚ Mandela’s personal archives boast about Zindzi’s strength and the bond the two shared.
In a 1969 letter from prison, Mandela wrote that Zindzi’s heart was sore because he was not at home and she asked when he would return. In a second letter to Zindzi in 1987‚ Mandela told her that he had heard from an acquaintance that she was as strong as a rock.
“That is just the kind of remark a father would like to hear about his beloved child. I literally swelled with pride and satisfaction‚” he wrote about Zindzi.
“That remark reached me at the right time‚ shortly after you had just gone through a rather harrowing experience. Tons and tons of love darling‚ and a million kisses‚” the letter read.
The mother of four and the youngest daughter of two anti-apartheid icons‚ Zindzi said she had to work twice as hard to forge her own path.
“It takes a lot for people to see you for yourself; you are never seen for yourself‚ so you have to work twice as hard to make your own star shine. In a sense you have to guard that type of thinking. I do that with my children. I told them you don’t need any type of exposure until you are merited and it’s on your own steam‚” she said in a 2008 television interview.
In the 1980s she was involved in humanitarian activities, including Operation Hunger‚ was a trustee of the King Luthuli Transformation Centre for Non-Violence‚ a managing Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and a trustee of the Progressive Sport and Recreation Development Trust.
She was also a member of the advisory board of Love Life‚ and a contributor as patron of the Vision In Sight Trust‚ which led to the formation of the Zindzi Mandela Star of Excellence Award.
She was regarded as a successful businesswoman. She cofounded the Mandela Legacy Foundation‚ was the MD of Zee Zee Promotions‚ a director of Ster-Kinekor‚ executive director of MHMJ Concepts‚ president of Mandela-Msomi Trading Enterprise and director of Zendj Holdings.
She was SA’s ambassador to Denmark since 2015 and had been designated to become its head of mission in Monrovia‚ Liberia.
Zindzi was married twice. From her first marriage to businessman Zwelibanzi Hlongwane she had four children: Zoleka Mandela (1980)‚ Zondwa Mandela (1985)‚ Bambatha Mandela (1989) and Zwelabo Mandela-Hlongwane (1992). In 2013 she remarried‚ to former SA National Defence Force member Molapi Motlhajwa. The marriage ended after about a year.
The life of the late freedom fighter‚ diplomat‚ writer‚ speaker and cultural advocate was not without controversy. In June 2019 she caused a stir on social media when she spoke about land reform. “Dear Apartheid Apologists‚ your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally #TheLandIsOurs‚” she tweeted.
Tributes for Zindzi poured in‚ with international relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor describing her as “a struggle heroine in her own right”.
Zelda la Grange‚ Madiba’s former personal assistant‚ posted a tribute to Zindzi on social media: “My dearest Zindzi. A sensitive‚ loving soul. A sister. A shoulder. My heart is broken.”
Carl Niehaus‚ of behalf of the MK Veterans’ Association‚ said: “As we mourn the passing of one of the greatest among us‚ MKMVA also celebrates a revolutionary life well lived. Comrade Zindzi’s spear has fallen‚ and as we pause to pick it up‚ we rededicate ourselves to continue with the struggle until the full liberation of all our people is truly achieved.”
SA film producer Anant Singh said in a heartfelt message that Zindzi was a friend‚ a sister‚ an activist and a mentor.
“She was her mother’s daughter‚ a firebrand who was not afraid to take on the apartheid regime when both Madiba and Winnie were either incarcerated or unable to speak for themselves. Another fearless‚ shining light of the Mandela family has left us. We will miss her love‚ her dignity‚ her humanity and her care for all those around her‚” Singh said.
In her 2008 television interview‚ Zindzi spoke about the loneliness and pressure she felt as a result of her upbringing. “I had to believe that one day we’d be free and I had to believe that one day my father would be home and we’d be a family unit‚ otherwise nothing else would have kept me going. The ANC actually became my motivation‚ the struggle became my motivation. That’s all I could hang on to.”
On Monday‚ the ANC’s Pule Mabe said Zindzi’s passing “is a huge loss to her own family‚ the ANC and all its mass democratic movement formations”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “Zindzi Mandela was a household name nationally and internationally‚ who during our years of struggle brought home the inhumanity of the apartheid system and the unshakeable resolve of our fight for freedom.
“Her spirit joins Tata Madiba and Mama Winnie in a reunion of leaders to whom we owe our freedom.”