Zindzi Mandela – from lonely childhood to international diplomacy

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Zindzi Mandela | Image: Twitter @zindzimandela

The ambassador often described her childhood as lonely, and spoke about the pressures of being weighed up against her parents.

Born Zindziswa Mandela in 1960 in Soweto to struggle icons Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Zindzi (as she was affectionately referred to) was a South African politician who was serving as her country’s first and only ambassador to Denmark at the time of her death.

The news of her sudden death was confirmed on Monday morning. At the same time, the Nelson Mandela Foundation also shared the fact that Mandela’s eldest son died on this year 51 years ago.

Mandela is survived by her husband, Molapo Motlhajwa, and her four children Zoleka Mandela, Zondwa Mandela, Bambatha Mandela and Zwelabo Mandela.

In articles, she is often referred to as Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane, a name she carried during her first marriage to Zwelibanzi Hlongwane.

Early life

Zindzi was the younger sister of Zenani Mandela and the third of Nelson Mandela’s three daughters.

In interviews, she often spoke about how lonely her childhood was and how she longed to have a father like other children, as her father was sent to prison when she was just 18 months old.

Because the apartheid government regularly sent her mother to prison for months at a time, Zindzi was often left in the care of her older sister Zenani Mandela when she was younger.

In 1985, her father was offered a conditional release by then South African president, PW Botha.

However, because both her parents were indisposed at the time, Zindzi was chosen to publicly declare her father’s refusal to meet to discuss this deal on 10 February 1985.

Her education was also interrupted by the political uncertainty of the mid to late ’80s given her parents’ prominence in the struggle, but she eventually graduated high school and went on to earn a BA from the University of Cape Town in 1985, where she studied law.

Zindzi was also a published poet with works featured in Black as I Am (1978), Somehow We Survive: An Anthology of South African Writing and Daughters of Africa.

Career and controversy

She was announced as the country’s ambassador to Denmark in 2014 and had been travelling between Denmark and SA since 2015.

Since her passing, many have tried to bring up old tweets once sent by Mandela making reference to “trembling white cowards who are the thieving rapist descendants of Van Riebeck [sic]”, and “uninvited visitors who don’t want to leave” that caused significant controversy.

There were those who also took exception to her adoration of EFF leader Julius Malema, whom she once tweeted her “deep, pure unconditional love and respect” for.

The content of her tweets caused such outrage that many called for her head.

As a result, the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) launched an investigation into the matter in order to determine whether she had breached their social media policy.

“I am not accountable to any white man or woman for my personal views. No missus or baas here. Get over yourselves #OurLand,” she responded via her Twitter account.

Following the investigation, she was reprimanded by Dirco Minister Naledi Pandor who asked Zindzi to “conduct herself as a diplomat” and to adhere to the department’s social media policy.

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