In her twilight years, Madikizela-Mandela, who died on Monday aged 81, had frequent run-ins with authority that further undermined her reputation as a fighter against the white-minority regime that ran Africa's most advanced economy from 1948 to 1994.
Together with her former husband, Nelson Mandela, South Africa'sfirst black president, Madikizela-Mandela became a symbol for the struggle for a new South Africa free from its racist baggage.
A longtime stalwart of the ruling African National Congress, or ANC, political party, Madikizela-Mandela was a member of South Africa's parliament at the time of her death.
The couple were divorced in 1996, two years after Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black President.
Even the name given to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at birth - Nomzamo, "one who undergoes trials" - foretold a life of struggle.
Madikizela-Mandela was born in 1936 and moved to Johannesburg to study social work after graduation.
Meanwhile, Tributes began pouring in for Madikizela-Mandela. In 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping and assault for the murder of 14- year-old Stompie Moeketsi by her bodyguards in 1989.
In 1990, Winnie Mandela famously joined hands with her husband Nelson as he walked out of prison.
"When the ANC was banned‚ when our people were living under the jackboot of apartheid‚ she remained the sole voice of the democratic movement‚ she continued to show courage against all the awful forms of intimidation that were levelled against her and her movement".
Controversies and lengthy legal battles aside Madikizela Mandela showed her continued resilience in a 2013 interview where she exclaimed that she would do it all again if she had to. This is where she nailed her colours to the mast about post-apartheid dispensation: it was too conciliatory.
"Today we have indeed lost a great leader, a champion of freedom and development, a people's hero, and a Mother, and a defender of the down-trodden", it said in statement Monday.
"I started to realise the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, the appalling conditions created by the inequalities of the system", she said.
The statement from her family said that she passed away at the Netcare Milpark hospital in Johannesburg.
Her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence on appeal. She was 81-years-old.
During December's ANC conference Winnie Mandela hugs Cyril Ramaphosa and then-President Jacob Zuma, left.
While Mandela was held at the Robben Island penal settlement, off Cape Town, where he spent most of his 27 years in jail, Madikizela-Mandela acted as the main conduit to his followers. "We are saddened by her passing but deeply grateful for the contributions she made in her lifetime".
In her book "100 Years of Struggle: Mandela's ANC", Heidi Holland suggested that Madikizela-Mandela was "perhaps driven half-mad by security police harassment".
A crowd of around 200 people congregated outside Madikizela-Mandela's Soweto home soon after her death was announced, singing and dancing.
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