Zindzi Mandela was a struggle hero with her own voice

Zindzi Mandela never truly recovered from her mother Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's death two years ago and she never stopped talking about her.

This is according to close family friends, former minister Jeff Radebe and advocate Dali Mpofu, who remembered Zindzi as a hero of the Struggle against apartheid.

Radebe told Sowetan yesterday that he was taken aback by Zindzi's untimely death.

Zindziswa Nobutho Mandela, 59, died at a Johannesburg hospital yesterday but the cause of her death was still unknown. Radebe, who was referred to as uncle by Zindzi and her sister Zenani, told Sowetan that Zindzi had a bond with her mother that was stronger than many people could imagine.

"Zindzi and Mam Winnie were very close, not only because they were mother and daughter but also they were joined at the hip by the Struggle so the sadistic apartheid regime fortified their mother/daughter relationship into a comradely one in a very deep way," Radebe said.

"I recall when Mam Winnie died, uZindzi was very devastated as was her other sister Zenani."

Radebe said he had not been aware of Zindzi's health having deteriorated recently.

"I was shocked because I got a call at 4.30 this morning that said she had passed on, the first thing that I did was to call uZenani in South Korea, so she's the one who confirmed and I went to the hospital in Morningside this morning."

Radebe said Zindzi will be remembered for the brave speech she made on behalf of her imprisoned father Nelson Mandela in 1985. She read out her father Mandela's letter from prison at a rally in which Madiba rejected then apartheid government primer minister PW Botha's conditional offer to release him from prison.

Radebe recalled how on the eve of the Soccer World Cup in 2010 Zindzi fell apart due to death of her own granddaughter.

Another family friend, Mpofu, described Zindzi, as "a kind, steadfast and feisty person".

"She played a significant role in her own right in the Struggle in the absence of those two iconic parents and of course her experience was shaped by their experiences. I participated in activities both in the public arena and in the underground, she was even participating in the military side of things," Mpofu said.

Mpofu said he last spoke to Zindzi a week ago and she was in "a happy space".

"We were just reminiscing about the good old days

"Zindzi never really fully recovered from the loss of her mother in particular but she was fine," Mpofu said.

He said Zindzi, who lived with her mother when she was banished to Brandfort in the Free State by the apartheid government, had experienced the brutality of the racist system and had in the process developed her own voice.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was deeply saddened by the death of Zindzi.

"She had been posted to Denmark in 2015 and had been designated to become South Africa's head of mission in Monrovia, Liberia," he said in a statement.

Ramaphosa offered his sincere condolences to Zindzi's immediate family, the Mandela family at large, friends of the late ambassador, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

"Zindzi Mandela was a household name nationally and internationally, who during our years of Struggle brought home the inhumanity of the apartheid system and the unshakeable resolve of our fight for freedom," he said.

"After our liberation, she became an icon of the task we began of transforming our society and stepping into spaces and opportunities that had been denied to generations of South Africans.

"Her spirit joins Tata Madiba and Mama Winnie in a reunion of leaders to whom we owe our freedom."

The ANC described her death as a "huge loss to her own family, the ANC and all its Mass Democratic Movement formations as well her big community of friends who came to know her personally."

Neighbours at her Soweto home in Orlando where Zindzi was raised described Zindzi as a people's person who always accommodated them.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said yesterday that Zindzi will be remembered for a "rich and extraordinary life", marked by many iconic moments. "Zindzi was someone we had come to know well and to love. She was our friend," it said in a statement.

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