Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Johannesburg on Dec. 8, 2013
Photo: Christopher Furlong (Getty Images)

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, one of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid activists and the former wife of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, died Monday at the age of 81.

According to eNCA.com, the Mandela family spokesperson, Victor Dlamini, said in a statement that Madikizela-Mandela died peacefully at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg surrounded by her family and loved ones.

“Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid. She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country. Her activism and resistance to apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions, eventually causing her banishment to the small town of Brandfort in the then Orange Free State,” the statement read.

“She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognizable faces. She dedicated most of her adult life to the cause of the people, and for this was known far and wide as the Mother of the Nation,” it continued. “The Mandela family are deeply grateful for the gift of her life and even as our hearts break at her passing, we urge all those who loved her to celebrate this most remarkable woman.”

Dlamini said that details about memorial and funeral services for the icon will be released once they have been finalized.