She emerged as a leading opponent of the white minority government during the latter years of her husband's long imprisonment (August 1962-February 1990). For many of those years she was exiled to the town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State and confined to the area except for the times she was allowed to visit her husband at the prison on Robben Island. She was dubbed "the Mother of the Nation."
Her reputation was damaged by what many considered her sometimes bloodthirsty rhetoric and by subsequent accusations of responsibility for the January 1989 abduction and killing by her bodyguards of 14-year-old ANC activist Stompie Seipei Moketsi.
In 1991 she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault in connection with the death of Moketski. Her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.
During the transition from Apartheid racial segregation she appeared to adopt a less conciliatory attitude than her husband toward the previously dominant white community, and their 38-year marriage ended in separation (April 1992) and divorce (March 1996). Appointed deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology in the first post-Apartheid government (May 1994), she was dismissed eleven months later following allegations of corruption.
She remained popular, however, among many ANC radicals, and in December 1993 and April 1997 she was elected president of the ANC Women's League, though she withdrew her candidacy for ANC deputy president at the movement's December 1997 Mafikeng conference after further damaging revelations about the Seipei incident during the sittings of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
On April 24, 2003 she was found guilty on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft, and her broker, Addy Moolman, was convicted on 58 counts of fraud and 25 of theft. They had each pleaded not guilty. The theft charges stem from a scheme in which they set up a phony funeral insurance service and then pilfered money from participants' accounts. Ms. Madikizela-Mandela was sentenced to four years in prison.
It remains unclear how this conviction will affect her parliamentary seat, her leadership position in the Women's League or her populist appeal.