April 02, 2018 11:16 AM

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died at the age of 81.

According to multiple outlets including the New York Times and the BBC, her personal assistant confirmed Madikizela-Mandela’s death on Monday.

She died after a long illness, for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year,” family spokesperson Victor Dlamini said in a statement according to The Guardian. “She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty

Madikizela-Mandela was formerly married to South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela and together the pair worked tirelessly to end apartheid. Madikizela-Mandela and Mandela were married in Dec. 1956 and had two daughters Zeni, born in 1958, and Zindzi, in 1960.

While Madikizela-Mandela stood by her husband during the 27 years he was sent to prison after being convicted of sabotage and treason in June 1964, after his release they ran into martial difficulties and went on to separate in 1992, divorcing in 1996.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela
Media24/Gallo Images/Getty

Despite the pair’s separation, Madikizela-Mandela was among the visitors to see Mandela at the hospital in his final days before he passed away in 2013.

Many paid tribute to Madikizela-Mandela in the wake of the news.

Wrote Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., “In the darkest hours of the struggle to free South Africa, with Nelson Mandela in prison, the face of hope and courage was #Winnie Mandela. May she forever rest in #Power.”

Actor Idris Elba also reacted to the news, writing, “Rest in peace Mama Winnie. My heart is heavy right now. You lived a full and important life contributing to the liberation of a nation by force and ACTUAL ACTIVISM. You will never be forgotten.”

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