Five things to know about Zoleka Mandela

From dealing with grief through fashion to her miracle baby, here are facts about the late author and activist

26 September 2023 - 15:39
By Thango Ntwasa
Tributes have poured in for Zoleka Mandela. File photo.
Image: Twitter Tributes have poured in for Zoleka Mandela. File photo.

While many will remember her as the granddaughter of former president Nelson Mandela, the late Zoleka Mandela often paved her own path.

The news of her passing shocked the nation when she succumbed to a long battle with cancer on Monday. She died a day before the birthday of her grandmother, struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who would have turned 87 this year.

The turbulent life of Zoleka is truly unforgettable.

Here is a look at five memorable moments in her life:


After the passing of her mother Zindzi Mandela, Zoleka turned to art as a way to grieve. Posting her creations on Instagram, Zoleka quickly gained a following from fans interested in her pimped-out kicks. Her artworks ranged from popular children's characters including SpongeBob SquarePants to the characters from Coco Melon.


While scandal is nothing new to the Mandela clan, Zoleka's battle with addiction often caught the headlines. Taking to her Instagram, Zoleka shared that she started drinking as early as the age of nine. 

This would spiral into a drug addiction which she revealed in the same post had become dangerous in her teens. Zoleka had been sober since 2010.

Taking control of the way people viewed her life, Zoleka used Instagram as one of her go-to spaces. On her YouTube page she shared her journey about her cancer diagnosis and the treatment she was receiving.


Zoleka survived a great loss when her 13-year-old daughter Zenani passed away in 2010 in a car crash. The accident took place on the night of the Fifa World Cup pre-tournament concert hosted in South Africa. The Guardian reported that this was why Nelson Mandela pulled out of the official ceremony.


While Zoleka was able to beat breast cancer, the chemotherapy she went through affected her fertility and took a toll on her emotional wellbeing. However, her prayers were answered with a pregnancy in 2018 and the birth of her daughter Zenzile. 

TimesLIVE reported she gave birth in 2019 and shared the journey on her social media.


Due to her life being swept away by her addictions, Zoleka only got to graduate nearly 20 years after her first year at varsity.

Zoleka was pursuing studies in psychology and shared on Instagram that she was delayed from graduating while bunking and not prioritising her studies. She eventually dropped out in 2007 and has shared that she was humiliated for the money she squandered. 

She registered in 2017 to complete her studies, which she said was paid for by herself, though her grandmother had offered to pay for her.