The Diplomatic Society

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Zindziswa Mandela: a Royal Princess, a leader and struggle icon in her own right

by HRH Stella Sigcau

14 July 2020

Zindziswa Mandela was born on 23 December 1960 to Royal parents, Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela who was a Thembu Prince and his wife Winnie Nomzamo Mandela (nee Madikizela) who was a Mpondo Princess from Madikizela Chieftainship in Mbizana in the Mpondo Kingdom.

By birthright she was born a leader, bold and fearless, a trait common to most Royal Princesses,, qualities she carried with all the dignity making a difference in an unjust world from an early age. Leadership was in her genes from birth. She was born of two strong parents who became globally recognised leaders in their own right. She was born of two liberation struggle icons, the struggle for liberation was in her blood. She had lived it, was born in it and was raised in it.

A Princess by birth, by choice she chose to serve the people by committing her life to the struggle for liberation and playing a significant, fearless, bold and resilient role in this regard leading to her suffering at the hands of Apartheid pioneers, police and authorities. As a royal that was not uncommon as many had played a significant role in the struggle for liberation, leading in the forefront in colonial resistance wars with some falling in those battles and wars, others arrested and sent to prisons including Robben Island. Many Kings and Chiefs fought, sacrificed and died resisting colonialism in their lands and playing a significant role in the struggle for liberation. To mention a few, the likes of King Hintsa and Chief Maqoma who fought in frontier wars, King Sigcau of the Mpondo Kingdom and King Langalibalele of the Hlubi Kingdom who were incarcerated in Robben Island for boldly opposing colonialism, Kings Dalindyebo  of the Thembus, Marhelane kaSigcau of the Mpondos, Dinizulu of the Zulus who were some of the founding Kings of the ANC in 1912, Traditional Leaders like Nkosi Ntsikayezwe Sigcau a liberation activist who was arrested and harassed  for this cause, Nkosi Bambatha who led a rebellion. The list is endless.

Her own father was arrested and sent to prison for his role in the liberation struggle for 27 years when she was only 18 months. She witnessed her own mother harassed, violated, ill-treated, humiliated, imprisoned for her role in the liberation struggle. Her own grandfather Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Mandela was stripped of his chieftainship it is reported for defying a white magistrate. In the Madikizela chieftaincy there were many struggle heroes including Nkosana General Prince Madikizela. Zindziswa Mandela came from that lineage, that genre of leaders. Zindziswa Mandela, a royal Princess grew to become a leader and a struggle icon in her own right.

Her life was never ordinary from birth. The year she was born the ANC was preparing for the launch of its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe. As reported the 1960s marked an important watershed in South Africa's struggle against apartheid. The aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, signalled the beginning of a far more brutal and intensive phase of state repression that would crush internal resistance in the space of a few years. This is the South Africa that Zindziswa Mandela would grow up in.

In 1973 at the age of 12, she is reported to have written to the United Nations urging them to protect her and her mother from the Apartheid authorities. In 1977 she accompanied her mother on the banishment in Brandfort in the Free State, a time in her words, was one of the most difficult times of her life and that of her mother.

Zindziswa Mandela is known for being outspoken, strong, fearless and yet sensitive and compassionate. She expressed her views without fear or favour. She stood for what she believed in. She detested racism and oppression of people. These were also expressed in her poems published in 1978 at the age of 17 years in the book Black as I Am. She is reported to have been a member of the Free Mandela campaign and was recruited as an underground operative of uMkhonto we Sizwe.

At the age of 25 in 1985 she made history when she delivered a speech on behalf of her father in Soweto when her father refused to accept PW Botha's offer of a conditional release. She read the speech without fear and she continued to use her voice as a weapon to fight injustices imposed by the Apartheid government and throughout her life. She continued to use her voice to stand for what she believed in, at times misunderstood or portrayed as a radical, the latest being the issue of land. Her tweets on land were portrayed as radical and highly criticized by some. The issue of land to be returned to Africans was closest to her heart and she was passionate and unapologetic about it until the end. Some felt she was racist and others felt as a diplomat her tweets on land were rather undiplomatic and radical. At the time she posted these tweets she was serving South African people as Ambassador in Denmark (2015-2020).

Other roles that she never compromised on were those of being a mother to her four children, oldest being Zoleka who was born in 1980, followed by Zondwa in 1985, Bambatha born in 1989 and Zwelabo born in 1992, of being a daughter, a wife, a sister, grandmother and an aunt to her nephews and nieces. Family meant everything to her.

She passed on on 13 July 2020,  the same day her brother Thembekile Mandela, son of her late father former President Mandela, and his first wife Evelyn Mase died 51 years earlier.

Her life was nothing but extra ordinary, overcoming many challenges with strength and dignity. Hers was never an easy life but she never compromised on her principles. She was a royal Princess who rose to become a leader and a struggle icon in her own right, leaving behind a huge legacy.




February/March 2020








© copyright 2011-2017| The Diplomatic Society| All Rights Reserved.