Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was born September 26, 1936 in what is now South Africa's Eastern Cape Province. She was one of eight children and lost her mother at the tender age of eight years old. Winnie grew up during Apartheid, which was a racial segregation system enforced through legislation in South Africa. Despite restrictions to education for blacks, she earned degrees in Social Work and International Relations. With her Social Work degree Winnie worked at Baragwanath Hospital where she became the very first black social worker in South Africa. This is where she became especially aware of the huge gap between the privileged white minority and the levels of poverty that blacks were subject to. This is where Winnie's passion for equality and her political voice evolved.
Winnie is primarily known for being the wife of Nelson Mandela, whom she met in 1957 and married a year later. Nelson was constantly touring different townships and was often in jail while he was striving to end Apartheid. In 1962, five years into their marriage, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. From early on, Winnie had to learn to survive on her own with their two small daughters, as they had no source of income.
Due to her husband's imprisonment, Winnie was forced to remain in the township of Soweto. Winnie held strong and while her husband was away she started the Black Women's Federation and helped establish the Black Parents' Association. She also helped local black communities establish soup kitchens for school children, a mobile health unit, and she initiated self-help projects that ranged from growing vegetables to knitting clothes to sewing school uniforms.
When the odds were stacked against her Winnie didn't run and hide. She stood and took everything head on.