Such is the enduring fascination with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela that she has been the subject of an opera, a BBC biopic starring Sophie Okonedo, below, and an imminent Hollywood movie with Jennifer Hudson.
She kept the flame of the anti-apartheid struggle burning when her then husband was behind bars and remains one of the country's most charismatic politicians, often hailed as "the mother of the nation". But Madikizela-Mandela, now 75, is also a hugely divisive figure who has a chequered history with the governing African National Congress and has fallen out with the current leadership. Born in a rural village in the Transkei, she was a young social worker in Johannesburg when she met the lawyer Nelson Mandela at a bus stop and rapidly fell in love. The couple were together just two years before Mandela joined the ANC underground and, in 1962, was arrested and put on trial. He spent the next 27 years in jail but Madikizela-Mandela, who had two daughters with him, took up the struggle and regularly suffered imprisonment and torture.
In 1990 she was back at her husband's side when he walked free from prison, a globally televised moment that made the death of white minority rule inevitable. But a year later, her reputation suffered a massive blow.
She was convicted of the 1988 kidnapping of a 14-year-old boy subsequently murdered by the "coach" of her Mandela United football club. Her marriage to Mandela was also on the rocks – they divorced in 1996 – and she would later be convicted of more than 40 charges of fraud. Cast into the political wilderness, a rise to the top echelons of the ANC was out of the question. And as an MP, she has been criticised for rarely attending parliament.
But she continues to play a role comparable to a maverick backbencher in Westminster, constantly a thorn in the side of the leadership. She remains wildly popular among millions of members of the rank and file and her opinions carry huge weight in the media.
She has become a leading voice of discontent about the ANC losing its way and succumbing to corruption. She adopted the renegade ANC youth league leader Julius Malema as her political "grandson" before he was expelled for ill-discipline.
For president Jacob Zuma and his allies, she represents a dangerous loose cannon, while for the factions seeking to oust Zuma, she is a totemic rallying figure. The ANC will hold a leadership election at the end of the year. Madikizela-Mandela's charismatic power may yet tip the balance.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Shack Dwellers International