Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter Zoleka dies aged 43 after long fight with cancer

Zoleka Mandela, pictured in 2011, has died at the age of 43 (AFP via Getty Images)
Zoleka Mandela, pictured in 2011, has died at the age of 43 (AFP via Getty Images)

Activist and author Zoleka Mandela, granddaughter of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, has died at the age of 43 following a long battle with cancer.

Ms Mandela died on Monday evening “surrounded by friends and family”, after being admitted to hospital a week earlier with metastised liver cancer.

Her death was confirmed in a post on her Instagram page, where she shared her fight with the disease with her half-a-million followers.

Ms Mandela was admitted to hospital on September 18, the post said, when scans revealed her liver cancer had spread to her hip, liver, lung, brain, pelvis, and spinal cord.

“Zoleka passed away on the evening of Monday, Septmeber 25, surrounded by friends and family,” it continued. “Our sincerest gratitude to the medical team that took care of her.”

Born in 1980, she was the daughter of Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi Mandela.

She was a mother-of-six, and had two grandchildren.

Ms Mandela spoke candidly about her struggles with with drug and alcohol addiction in her memoir When Hope Whispers.

In 2010, her daughter Zenani, 13, was killed in a car crash near South African capital Johannesburg.

Ms Mandela is understood to have been in hospital herself recovering from an earlier suicide attempt when she got news of the crash, and reportedly checked herself into rehab soon after.

Ms Mandela was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after, at the age of 32.

She underwent treatment including a double mastectomy, but the cancer returned in 2016 and she began documenting her journey with the disease via social media, spreading awareness and encouraging others to get checked.

She was diagnosed with liver cancer last year.

Ms Mandela was named one of the BBC’s 100 Women in 2016 - a list that honours influencial and inspirational figures from around the world.

She told the BBC at the time: “It is important for women to speak out, get tested, perform their own examinations.

“Silence cancer before it silences you.”

She added her regret that her activisim and altruism did not begin until after her grandfather’s death.

Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who served as first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, died in 2013 at the age of 95.

“I spent so much time abusing drugs and alcohol and choosing that over my family and loved ones,” she said.

“I just hope where he is with my daughter he is looking down and thinking ‘she has gotten it right finally’.”

Ms Mandela’s death has prompted an outpouring of grief from fans worldwide who had followed her cancer journey.

“Zoleka Mandela fought hard,” Siphokazi Majali wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter. “We can appreciate this moment for her to rest. Comfort and prayer for her children and family.”

“Zoleka Mandela prepared us for her passing but I don’t think I was ever ready for these news,” wrote another, named Chrissie. “I’m honestly so sad!”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation paid tribute to her, writing: “We mourn the loss of a beloved grandchild of Mum Winnie and Madiba and a friend of the Foundation.

“Zoleka was a tireless activist for healthcare and justice. 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.

“Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this most difficult time. Hamba kahle Zoleka, we will remember you.”