Zoleka Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected leader, died on Monday evening of cancer at the age of 43.
She died surrounded by friends and family, according to a spokesperson. In recent years, Zoleka was very open about her cancer treatment as well as her history of drug addiction. She confirmed last year that she had cancer in her liver and lungs and that it had then spread to other organs. Although initially she was being treated as an outpatient. She was admitted to the hospital just over a week ago.
“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 OK when it’s not? I’m dying… I don’t want to die,” she posted on Instagram early last month. Her candid disclosures gained her a following on social media.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation touted her work around chronic disease as inspirational. They said that she raised “awareness about cancer prevention” as well as “breaking down the stigma surrounding the disease”.
Who was Zoleka Mandela?
Zolenka was the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela’s second wife, Winnie. She documented her story in her autobiography When Hope Whispers. She spoke candidly about her struggles with depression and the fact that she had been sexually abused as a child.
Her 13-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in 2010, which led her to campaign for better road safety. She later lost a son after he was born prematurely. She is survived by four children.
At the age of 32, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received treatment and was in remission. However, the illness later returned.
She was only 10 when her grandfather was released from prison in 1990 after 27 years in detention. At the time, she had only ever known him as an incarcerated man, so when he was released she was excited he was coming home. Mandela died in 2013 at the age of 95.