Zindzi Mandela, 'sensitive, loving soul', dies suddenly in Johannesburg

13 July 2020 - 07:51 By Matthew Savides, TimesLIVE and Iavan Pijoos
Tributes are pouring in after the sudden death of struggle stalwart Zindzi Mandela. Details are sketchy but the Mandela family is expected to reveal more in a statement on Monday.
Tributes are pouring in after the sudden death of struggle stalwart Zindzi Mandela. Details are sketchy but the Mandela family is expected to reveal more in a statement on Monday.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

SA's former ambassador to Denmark, Zindziswa “Zindzi” Nobutho Mandela, has died.

This was confirmed to TimesLIVE by a close family member.

In a brief statement later on Monday, the Mandela family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Mama Zindzi Mandela, youngest daughter of the late ANC stalwarts Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She is survived by her children and grandchildren.

“The memorial service and funeral arrangements are to be announced in the course of the week,” said the family statement.

International relations & co-operation (Dirco) minister Naledi Pandor said she learnt of the death with shock.

Expressing condolences to the Mandela family, friends and colleagues, Pandor said: “Zindzi will not only be remembered as a daughter of our struggle heroes, Tata Nelson and Mama Winnie Mandela, but as a struggle heroine in her own right. She served South Africa well.”

Madikizela-Mandela's former spokesperson Zodwa Zane confirmed Zindzi's passing, telling TimesLIVE that the Mandela family would issue a statement later in the day. News media reported that Mandela died suddenly in a Johannesburg hospital in the early hours of Monday.

Zelda la Grange, former personal assistant to Madiba, who knew her well, posted a tribute to Zindzi on social media, alongside a heartbroken emoji.

“My dearest Zindzi. A sensitive, loving soul. A sister. A shoulder. My heart is broken.

“May you RIP, united with your parents and Zenani jnr [Zindzi's granddaughter, who died in a car accident in 2010]. Heartfelt condolences to Zoleka, Zondwa, Zwelabo and Bambatha, grandkids and the rest of the family,” La Grange tweeted.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa on Monday described Zindzi as a “fighter” who had fought from the early days of her life. Holomisa told TimesLIVE that Zindzi was very close to her late mother.

“We will also remember her during the time when she was campaigning for [Nelson] Mandela to be released. She was vocal. My condolences to the family and her children and sisters.”

Zindzi and her sister Zenani grew up in the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle as their mother fought both the state and economic hardship as a single mother while their father was incarcerated.

“By the time I was born, on April 9 1980, my mother knew how to strip and assemble an AK-47 in exactly 38 seconds.”

These are the opening words of the biography of Zindzi's eldest daughter, Zoleka, titled When Hope Whispers.

Zindzi is best remembered for her defiance, which she retained throughout her life, most recently voicing her support for accelerated land reform. Her notable, early foray into the spotlight in her own right was when she read her jailed father's speech in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, in February 1985, rejecting then president PW Botha's conditional offer of freedom.

Five months ago, as South Africans commemorated the 30th anniversary of Madiba's release from the Victor Verster prison, Zindzi reminisced about the weekends they went to visit him in prison and how, upon his release, she realised she would share him with the nation.

Labour movement leader Zwelinzima Vavi said he will remember Zindzi as a “young lady who had the looks of her father Nelson”.

Vavi said Zindzi was a woman full of confidence, had lots of guts and a warm and big heart.

“She became hope to millions of the youth during the struggle and was in the forefront of the liberation to make South Africa ungovernable. She was fearless and served as an inspiration,” Vavi said.

Vavi said he was deeply saddened by her passing and send his heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family. “We wish them strength to cope with the devastating loss. This is indeed very sad.”

She was born on December 23 1960 in Soweto. SAHistory.org states Madiba's 27-year jail term began 18 months after Zindzi's birth. Her mother's banishment in 1977 to Brandfort for eight years further deprived Zindzi of a normal upbringing and education. However, she was sent to Swaziland where she finished her secondary education. In 1985 she earned her BA law degree at the University of Cape Town.

Zindzi's diplomatic career dates back to when she began training as head of mission designate in August 2014. She took up her posting on June 17 2015 after receiving her security clearance earlier that month.

On its website, Dirco states Zindzi had been involved in philanthropic work with several organisations, while in her business role she held positions as director and president of several corporations and holdings.

In her political career, Dirco said, she served as deputy president of the Soweto Youth Congress, was a member of the Release Mandela Campaign, was recruited as an underground operative of Umkhonto we Sizwe, worked with the communities of Weilers/Orange Farm to launch the first ANC branch with struggle leader Walter Sisulu in the 1990s, and served in the MK Veterans' Association in the Lesley Moatshe branch.

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 South African National Defence Force member Molapi Motlhajwa. TimesLIVE reported the bride wore a silver-grey gown and matching fascinator for the ceremony at a home affairs office in Potchefstroom before heading to the wedding reception in a 50m-by-10m marquee erected on a street in Ikageng township. The marriage ended after about a year.