Zoleka Mandela, the granddaughter of late South African leader Nelson Mandela who followed “in her grandfather’s footsteps,” has died after an 11-year battle with cancer that spread throughout her body, her family said.
She was 43.
The outspoken writer and activist was “surrounded by friends and family” when she died in a hospital late Monday, family spokesman Zwelabo Mandela said in a statement.
Exactly a week earlier, Zoleka Mandela had been “admitted into hospital for ongoing treatment for metastatic cancer to the hip, liver, lung, pelvis, brain and spinal cord,” reported the New York Post.
“Recent scans revealed significant disease progression, including fibrosis in the lungs as well as several emboli,” the statement said of the activist first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 32.
The spokesman expressed the family’s “sincerest gratitude to the medical team that took care of her”.
Ma Mandela was born April 9, 1980, to father MJ Seakamela and mother Zindzi Mandela — the daughter of Nelson and his second wife, Winnie.
She was 10 years old when her grandfather was released from prison in 1990 after 20 years behind bars.
Nelson Mandela would go on to serve as the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, before his death in 2013 at the age of 95.
It was only after his passing that Ms Mandela said she became an activist.
She was candid about her history of drug addiction, and spoke openly about her struggles with depression and the fact that she was sexually abused as a child.
After her 13-year-old daughter died in a car crash in 2010, Ms Mandela started campaigning for better road safety in South Africa.
It is believed she was in the hospital herself at the time of her daughter’s crash, recovering from an earlier suicide attempt, UK newspaper the Evening Standardreports.
Ms Mandela checked herself into rehab soon after, according to the Standard.
By age 32, Ms Mandela was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She underwent a double mastectomy, but the cancer returned in 2016, when she began documenting her journey on social media to spread awareness and encourage others to get screened.
That same year, Ms Mandela was named one of BBC’s 100 Women, a list that honours influential and inspirational women from around the world.
She told the outlet at the time: “It is important for women to speak out, get tested, perform their own examinations — silence cancer before it silences you”.
Last year, she confirmed the cancer had spread to her liver.
In an Instagram post just last month, Ms Mandela lamented about her condition.
“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?” she wrote. “How do I tell them everything will be OK when it’s not?
“I’m dying … I don’t want to die.”
Frank posts like those earned her a following on social media, where she was remembered on Tuesday.
“Utterly tragic loss of a human being in her grandfather’s footsteps,” one fan wrote on X, formerly Twitter, calling Ms Mandela “a decent, honest human being in a dishonest, hypocritical world.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation sent “heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family on the passing of Zoleka Mandela, tragically last night.
“Hamba kahle (goodbye to someone who has passed) Zoleka, we will remember you.”
Ms Mandela is survived by four children.
She was predeceased by her grandfather, Nelson Mandela; her grandmother, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; her mother, Zindziswa Mandela; and a son who was born prematurely.
“We mourn the loss of a beloved grandchild of Mum Winnie and Madiba, and a friend to the Foundation,” the organisation said in a statement, adding: “Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this most difficult time
This story appeared in the New York Post and is reproduced with permission.