Mandela attended the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work while living under South Africa’s apartheid system. She excelled in her social work studies and received a scholarship to study in America, but turned down the opportunity to work at Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg as the first black medical social worker. She married Nelson Mandela in 1958 and evolved into a fierce advocate against apartheid which subjected citizens of Indigenous African descent to the bottom of a harsh caste system. While citizens of European descent were at the top of the caste system and reaped the luxuries of that placement.
Just six years after her marriage, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and Winnie was left to fill the void in her husband’s absence. She continued their efforts to end apartheid and became more active with the African National Congress. In 1976, Mandela was an important influence in the Soweto student uprising. Students protested against a government decree that called for the use of Afrikaans and English as the primary language of instruction. Following the protest, Mandela was forced to a nearby border town, but continued to speak out. During this team she was bestowed the title “Mother of the Nation.”
Despite balancing her many roles, Winnie did receive criticism. She faced her own arrest, political turmoil and a separation from Nelson Mandela, but managed to be elected as president of the ANC's Women's League. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison and won the presidential election to become South Africa's first black president, he appointed his estranged wife as the deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology. She was removed her post in 1995, but reentered Parliament in 1999.
The “Mother of the Nation” died on April 2, 2018, in Johannesburg. Regardless of any political critiques, Mandela dedicated her efforts to ending the oppressive system of apartheid and her life has since been chronicled in a variety of films including Mrs. Mandela (2010) and Winnie (2011).