Winnie Madikizela-Mandela—the controversial South African anti-apartheid activist and former wife of Nelson Mandela—has died at the age of 81. Madikizela-Mandela held several government positions, was the head of the African National Congress Women's League, and famously accompanied Nelson Mandela as he walked free from prison after 27 years in 1990. The couple were together for 38 years, including the duration of his imprisonment, but divorced six years after his release in 1996. “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 to the BBC. “She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.” Madikizela-Mandela's reputation in South Africa was seriously damaged from the mid-1990s onwards by criminal convictions ranging from fraud to kidnapping and assault.