Anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela dies at 81

JOHANNESBURG, April 2 (Reuters) - Anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, wife to Nelson Mandela during his decades of imprisonment, died on Monday, a family spokesman said. She was 81.

Madikizela-Mandela died peacefully surrounded by her family following a long illness that had kept her in and out of hospital since the start of the year, Victor Dlamini said in a statement.

"She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country," the statement said.

"She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognizable faces."

Madikizela-Mandela was jailed several times for her part in the fight against white-minority rule and she campaigned for the release of her husband at home and abroad.

But her marriage to Mandela began to fall apart in the years after he was released from prison in 1990. The couple divorced in 1996, nearly four decades after they were married. They had two children together. (Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Writing by Joe Brock; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Winnie Madikizela Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, smiles as she arrives for the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Winnie Madikizela Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, gestures to supporters at the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Winnie Madikizela Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, smiles as she embraces South Africa's president Jacob Zuma ahead of the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Winnie Madikizela Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela chats to South Africa's deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the African National Congress 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, South Africa, June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Winnie Madikizela Mandela ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela chats with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the African National Congress 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, South Africa, June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Winnie Madikizela Mandela,ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, attends the inauguration ceremony of South African President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings in Pretoria May 24, 2014. REUTERS/Mujahid Safodien/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS)
Winnie Mandela (L), ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela kisses her granddaughter Ndileka as family members arrive ahead of Mandela's coffin, at the Mthatha airport in the Eastern Cape province, some 900 km (559 miles) south of Johannesburg, December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/Pool (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: OBITUARY POLITICS SOCIETY)
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela greets wellwishers gathered to wish to former President Nelson Mandela happy birthday outside the hospital where he is being treated in Pretoria, July 18, 2013. The ailing Mandela turns 95 today. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela greets wellwishers gathered to wish to former President Nelson Mandela happy birthday outside the hospital where he is being treated in Pretoria, July 18, 2013. The ailing Mandela turns 95 today. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)
Winnie Mandela, former wife of former president Nelson Mandela, attends the last day of the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg on December 20, 2017, during the African National Congress (ANC) 54th National Conference. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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