By: Carolyn Isaac

Zoleka Mandela, a granddaughter of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela, has died at the age of 43. According to reports, her life was entangled with an attempted suicide, long battle with cancer and the tragedy of losing two young children before embracing her grandparent’s legacies.

A statement from the family said Zoleka had gone to the hospital on September 18, 2023, for treatment for metastatic cancer, which was on her hip, liver, lung, pelvis, brain, and spinal cord.

Recent scans from the hospital revealed significant disease progression including fibrosis in the lungs as well as several emboli.

She passed away on Monday, September 25, 2023, at the hospital surrounded by family and friends. Her death was formally announced by the Mandela family in a statement on Tuesday, 26 September 2023. It was gathered that Zoleka was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32, but was in remission when the illness returned. she was afterwards diagnosed with cancer in her liver and lungs, which had metastasized and spread to other parts.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which promotes the legacies of the foremost South African statesman who died in 2013, said it mourned Zoleka Mandela’s death and offered its condolences to her immediate family. It added that she was a “beloved grandchild” to Nelson Mandela and praised her work of raising awareness of cancer and her role as an inspiration to those affected by the disease and to those who had lost children.

Zoleka, despite being the granddaughter of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the leader of the anti-apartheid movement and a powerful force for good, recognized and admired by many across the globe, and the daughter of a diplomat; Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane, daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, had very terrible experiences and series of tragedies that were just too much to bear at a young age.

Ms. Mandela suffered sexual abuse at an early age and battled drug and alcohol addiction from her teenage years. Her 13-year-old daughter, Zenani, was killed by a drunk driver in a car crash in 2010 on her way back from a concert that marked the opening of the soccer 2010 World Cup in South Africa. This tragedy occurred while Zoleka was bold in battling life’s challenges.

Zenani’s death brought a frail-looking Nelson Mandela out to a church for his great granddaughter’s funeral and that was one of his last public appearances.

Her second son was born prematurely in 2011 while she was being treated withan ailment and he died days later.

Speaking at her memorial service held at the Mandela family house in Soweto, to celebrate Zoleka Mandela’s life, the Honourable Minister of Tourism of South Africa; Lindiwe Sisulu, said Zoleka wasn’t a victim but a survivor.

According to her, “Traditionally, Zoleka is my niece. Zoleka has travelled down many paths most people dare not attempt. From losing two children in two years, beating addiction and battling cancer, Zoleka Mandela was not a victim. She didn’t identify as a victim. She’s a survivor.

She is a living example of success inspired by sheer fortitude that is strong enough to surmount challenges. Through her story, it is impossible not to have and believe that anything is achievable,” she said.

OneleLudidi met Zoleka in 2017 when she underwent a double mastectomy.
“That was a trying time in my life, and Zo’s visits to the hospital at that time remains in my heart. She shared her own experiences and provided guidance on what I could expect. During those visits, she had stopped being a visitor. She had become a beacon of hope. Her empathy, love and ability to inspire others provided me with the strength and confidence to face the challenges I had with grace. That shared moment was a turning point in my journey,” she added.

In a very emotional video shared on social media, Ndileka paid glowing tributes to her late cousin sister. She had known Zoleka from birth, hence their memories dates back to Qunu and she learnt a few things from Zoleka which includes endurance and bravery.

“She fought courageously. Even when she knew the odds were against her, it didn’t discourage her. I will miss her zest, her exuberance and her authenticity. The last time I spent with Zo was when she was christening her children, all four of them and I wanted to cry but she said, “Sisi, not today.” Zo, I know that you are reunited with big Mommy; with your Mom and the children. What a reunion it will be. I will always miss you my dear cousin, eternal goodbye Zo.” Said Ndileka

In an interview with CherryAfrica, Salome Malema admitted that the death of Zoleka pierces very deep, and she finds it difficult to believe that Zoleka is no more.

In her words, “Zoleka was a courageous, loving, caring, beautiful and very intelligent yet easy-going soul. The sober Ms. Malema added that Zoleka was indeed a great source of strength and inspiration to many lives including herself.”

Like Ndileka, Salome confessed that she will miss Zoleka so much and all that she represented here on earth, hoping her foundation will continually remain a legacy of her passion for humanity.

She ended with a plea to the family and friends of the Mandelas, especially those of Zoleka, to come together to ensure the children she left behind are well groomed and catered for, seeing Zoleka is no more here to play the motherly role to them.

Zoleka was said to have been preparing for her death. She met with her family members, her family lawyer and a therapist to discuss what life would be for her children when she’s gone.

“It will probably sound strange but I am in my panic stage. I think I am blessed and fortunate enough to be in a position where I am in my planning stages. I am having conversations with my loved ones, lawyer, therapist and siblings to discuss what happens on the day and after I pass away.”

Zoleka revealed that she did not want to bother her siblings when she died. In her diary, she listed the people she did not want to have at her funeral or near her body. On the list are some members of the Mandela family and members of the Madikizela family, including her ex-husband and father of her two children as well as the father of her last child.ZOLEKA MANDELA'S DEPARTURE AT 43

Zoleka Mandela had planned where she wanted to be buried and her final resting place was secured. She had prepared her family and children and had a list of including guests and excluding guests.

Immediately after her passing, a grave was dug at the Mandela Estate next to her two late children, her mother, Zindzi Mandela and grandmother Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at Fourways Memorial Park.

The Mandela family wanted to bury Zoleka next to her family at the Mandela Burial Estate as she had wanted, but the plan was foiled by Zoleka’s aunt, Zenani. Zenani Mandela and Zoleka’s ex-husband, Thiery Bashala were said to have arrived the venue where they delivered a court interdict to the family with a police van demanding they bury Zoleka in her own space purchased by her ex-husband.

The plot where Zoleka Mandela was meant to be buried – Pic Mbalenhle Zuma
The plot where Zoleka Mandela was meant to be buried – Pic Mbalenhle Zuma

This was said to have brought serious division among the Mandelas who saw the act of Zenani as a disgrace, noting that this could have been done earlier to save the family such shame and that Zoleka was very clear about where she wanted to be buried: next to her kids.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CherryAfrica that, Zoleka did not want Zenani at her funeral, yet she came to cause tension that will end up further dividing the Mandela family and may lead to legal battles.

The controversy was sparked up by the emergence of a purported list on social media, indicating people Zoleka did not wish to have at her funeral. Zoleka’s cousin, Ndileka Mandela was said to have confirmed the authenticity of a list of people who her cousin, Zoleka did not want at her funeral. The list which was shared on social media had prominent members of the Mandela family, including Zenani Mandela Snr (her Aunt), Mandla Mandela (her cousin brother), Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela (her cousin sister and daughter of Zenani Mandela), Thierry Bashala (her Ex-husband and father of her two children) Leeroy Andie Cana (the father of her last child,Zingce).

Also on the list were members of the Madikizela family: Zukiswa Madikizela, Nsundu Madikizela and BuyelekhayaDalindyebo, among others, with the allegation that some of those men abused her.

Responding to the list, Mandla Mandela denied allegations of abuse, adding that the timing of the release of the letter was unfortunate.

“It is quite unfortunate that my cousin sister’s last rites were marred by this unsavory behavior and serious allegations of this nature could be bandied about so irresponsibly. We call on all family and friends to restore respect and dignity and let Zoleka rest in peace,” he said.

This is not the first time a family feud has ensued at the Mandela Family regarding burial rites. A decade ago, Mandla Mandela and his aunt, Makaziwe Mandela and other family members fought for burial rites of the former President, while the former President was hospitalized in a Pretoria hospital inJune 2013.

In 2011, Mandla Mandela, the grandson of the former president was said to have exhumed the bodies of Mandela’s three children including his late father (Makgatho Mandela) who died and was buried in 2005,and moved them to his homestead in Mvezo, about 25km from Qunu, which is also the birthplace of the former president. Mandla, who holds authority as a Chief in Mvezo had reburied the bodies in Mvezo with the plans of creating a family heritage, aMandela Shrine with hotel and soccer stadium, possibly for the purpose of tourism.This was done without the consent of other family members.

Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe, other members of the Mandela family and elders of the Mandela clanwent to court demanding the bodies be returned to their original graves in Qunu and they succeeded. The Former President had built his retirement home in Qunu where he was living until his repeated hospitalizations. Mandela later passed away on December 5, 2013 and was finally laid to rest in Qunu as he had wanted.


In 2013, Zoleka founded the Zoleka Mandela Foundation, as a social upliftment foundation with three core areas of interests: Breast Cancer, Road Safety as well as Women and Youth Development. The legacy foundation had the aim of educating people about breast cancer, road safety and social responsibilities and educating the young people on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. The foundation was also to assist young people with personal growth, volunteerism and accountability, while exposing them to various available opportunities in society.

Zoleka captured the abnormal circumstances that surrounded her childhood and growing up in her autobiography titled “When Hope Whispers.” In the book published in 2013, Zoleka threw more light on what she described as “unbearable circumstances” of her life including the loss of a 13-year-old daughter in an auto crash, particularly at a time she was recovering from ill-health. She touched on her journey as a breast cancer survivor, how she battled many addictions to drugs and alcohol, as well as her struggles with sexual abuse at a young age. Zoleka strongly believed that sharing her life story, will inspire people to follow many of their dreams despite life’s frequent ebbs and expected flows.

Her greatest regret in life was being absent at the time her daughter, Zenani was killed. In an interview on SABC 3, Real Talk with Anele, she told the TV host how she wrote over 60 letters like entries while in the Rehab and the most touching of them was the letter written to her late daughter, Zenani, because though Zenani was no more, she had developed a closer bond with her before her untimely death.

Zoleka added that part of her reasons for her book was to correct the misconception that simply because you are aMandela, your life cannot be penetrated by social vises or you suddenly become a superhuman that has no feelings. In view of the wrong perception, she felt it was important for people to know that theMandelas are humans and they also have their life struggles just like every other person.

In what looks like a moment of sober reflection, Zoleka admitted that though Zenani was no more as at the time she had turned a new her, she sincerely wished her daughter and her grandfather were alive to see her become a changed person.

Zoleka was born on April 9, 1980 to Oupa Johannes MafanyanaSeakamela, a North Sotho man and Diplomat Zindziswa Mandela, daughter of the freedom fighter Winnie Mandela. As a product of two legendary icons; the first Black President of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and freedom fighter and politician, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela Mandela, Zoleka was tremendously inspired by her grandparents and their passion to bring about change.

Zoleka survived many tragedies ranging from the unexpected loss of two children in close succession, daughter Zenani Mandela (June 11, 2010) and son, Zenawe Mandela (June 23, 2011), breast cancer (March 15, 2012), sexual abuse as well as alcohol and drug addiction at her young age. She demonstrated so much strength and resilience in the face of adversities, the same virtues her grandparents were renowned for.

Zoleka was a fervent advocate for mental health, addiction recovery and breast cancer awareness. A dedicated road safety activist and founder of Zoleka MandelaFoundation in 2013. She was the renowned author of “When HopeWhispers,” an autobiography of herself which was aimed at inspiring people with similar challenges. In 2016, Zoleka was chosen as one of the BBC’s 100 Women and she was a United Nations Global Ambassador on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and child health.

Zoleka passed away on September 25, 2023 at the age of 43, barely a day to her grandmother’s (Winnie Mandela) 87th birthday, 26th September and was laid to rest at Fourways Memorial Park, North of Johannesburg after a private funeral service by the Bryanston Methodist Church in Bryanston, Johannesburg, South Africa. She’s survived by four children.



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