The Queens of Africa

Winnie Mandela
The Queens of Africa
While many readers will be familiar with African black history figures such as Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie, not many will be familiar with some of the female heroines who have helped shaped the continent’s history.

Winnie Mandela

Born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela in what is now known as South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, Winnie Mandela was Nelson Mandela’s second wife. Married to Mandela between 1958 and 1996, Winnie is known to those familiar with South Africa’s apartheid struggle as much more than Madiba’s spouse, rising to become one of the movements most important (if controversial figureheads) and is commonly referred to as ‘The Mother of the Nation’.

Winnie Mandela played an integral role in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa’s black population, whilst her husband was unjustly imprisoned from 1963 to 1990, acting as a passionate activist, organiser, orator and leader during the apartheid struggle, while also being the antiapartheid movement’s most visible mouthpiece to the Western world. She was not a figure without controversy, however. The decades spent apart during her husband’s imprisonment meant the Mandela’s eventually separated two years prior to Nelson’s release from Robben Island. After the fall of apartheid, she courted controversy as it was revealed that she was personally linked to some of the more violent factions of the antiapartheid movement.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti Funmilayo

Ransome-Kuti is known as one of 20th Century Africa’s earliest activists. An educator, organiser, democratic socialist and feminist thinker, she married into the (soon to be influential) Ransome-Kuti clan in 1925. She gained prominence as a key women’s rights activist and organiser in colonial Nigeria, campaigning for women’s votes and founding the Abekouta Women’s Union. She is also well known as the mother of Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician and ‘Afrobeat’ pioneer, as well as being the first woman in Nigeria to gain a driver’s licence.

Queen Anna Nzinga Queen

Nzinga ruled the Kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba in what is now known as Angola in the 1600s. She is perhaps best known for taking control of Ndongo from her brother in 1623 and subsequently negotiating a peace treaty with the Portuguese, who were raiding the region for slaves at the time. Nzinga would eventually resume her nation’s conflict with the Portuguese after they reneged on the terms of the treaty, with her forces waging a laudable resistance against the Portuguese and the alliances she formed during this period helping her to conquer the neighbouring region of Matamba.