On Monday evening, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter Zoleka Mandela died of cancer in South Africa, surrounded by her family and friends. It was the day before Winnie Mandela’s birthday, who would have been celebrating her 87th birthday.
During her life, the prolific writer, became widely known for her advocacy in the justice and healthcare spaces. Zoleka also lent her voice to road safety campaigns, following the death of her 13-year-old daughter in a 2010 car crash.
But working in activism may have been inescapable, given her impressive lineage. “Born to father MJ Seakamela and mother Zindzi Mandela, Zoleka Mandela was the grandchild of Nelson Mandela and his second wife, Winnie Mandela,” as ABC News reports.
During the last few years of her life, Zoleka was extremely open and candid around her treatment plan for cancer as well as “her history of drug addiction,” in addition to struggling with depression and being sexually abused during her childhood, says BBC.
“The Nelson Mandela Foundation extends its heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family on the passing of Zoleka Mandela, tragically last night,” said the Nelson Mandela Foundation in a statement, adding, “We mourn the loss of a beloved grandchild of Mum Winnie and Madiba and a friend of the Foundation.”
“Her work in raising awareness about cancer prevention and her unwavering commitment to breaking down the stigma surrounding the disease will continue to inspire us all,” continued the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
At 32-years-old, Zoleka received her first breast cancer diagnosis. After receiving treatment, she was in remission, but the cancer would not remain dormant for long. Just last year, she relayed that the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs in addition to other major organs.
Sharing her struggles on Instagram, Zoleka posted, “I don’t even have the words to articulate my thoughts and feelings, the words to describe how scared I am right now. What do I tell my children? How do I tell them that this time around, I may not get to live my life as a survivor? How do I tell them everything will be okay when it’s not? I’m dying … I don’t want to die,” last August.
But by April 2023, it seems that she was making peace with her illness, telling Kaya FM, “I’m learning to be okay with my eventuality.”
According to BBC, “She was being treated as an outpatient but was admitted to [the] hospital just over a week ago.”
Family spokesperson Zwelabo Mandela, released a statement Tuesday morning via Zoleka’s Instagram account, “On Monday, September 18th, Zoleka Mandela was admitted into hospital for ongoing treatment for metastatic cancer to the hip, liver, lung, pelvis, brain and spinal cord. Recent scans revealed significant disease progression including fibrosis in the lungs as well as several emboli.”
The message read, “Zoleka passed away on the evening of Monday, September 25th, surrounded by friends and family. Our sincerest gratitude to the medical team that took care of her. Mandela was 43. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this most difficult time. Hamba kahle Zoleka, we will remember you.”