Winnie Madikizela Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and wife to Nelson Mandela has died aged 81, her personal assistant confirms.
"She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year," Victor Dlamini, the Mandela family spokesperson said.
Madikizela-Mandela married Nelson Mandela in 1956, six years before he was imprisoned for his fight against apartheid in 1962.
During her ex-husband's 27-year imprisonment, Madikizela-Mandela campaigned for his release and the rights of black South Africans. In 1990 the world watched when Nelson Mandela finally walked out of prison hand in hand with Winnie.
But they separated just two years later and divorced in 1996 after a legal wrangle that revealed her affair with a young bodyguard.
Winnie, hailed as mother of the "new" South Africa built her own role as a tough, glamourous and outspoken black activist with a loyal grassroots following in the segregated townships.
Her uncompromising methods and refusal to forgive contrasted sharply with the reconciliation espoused by her husband as he worked to forge a stable, pluralistic democracy from the racial division and oppression of apartheid.
Winnie was born September 26, 1936, in the village of Mbongweni in what is now Eastern Cape.
She completed university, a rarity for black women at the time, and became the first qualified social worker at Johannesburg's Baragwanath Hospital.
Winnie played a high-profile role in the battle to end white-minority rule but her place in history was also stained by controversy. Her reputation came under damaging scrutiny in the twilight years of apartheid rule.
In 1986, she was widely linked to "necklacing", when suspected traitors were burnt alive by a petrol-soaked car tyre being put over their head and set alight.
OneIndia News (with agency inputs)