Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, died Monday at 81, her spokesperson announced. Often referred to as “Mother of the Nation,” Madikizela-Mandela played a key role in the struggle to dismantle South Africa’s racist apartheid state. After her then-husband Nelson Mandela was sent to prison by the apartheid government in 1962, she campaigned tirelessly for his release and became a leader of black South African’s fight for freedom. When he was finally released in 1990 after 27 years in prison, Madikizela-Mandela could be seen right alongside her newly-freed husband, her fist in the air. They were separated when he became president in 1994, divorcing in 1996.

Many paid tribute to the activist Monday after news broke of her death, including Idris Elba, who portrayed Nelson Mandela in the 2013 biopic Long Walk to Freedom, writing on Twitter that his “heart is heavy right now. You lived a full and important life contributing to the liberation of a nation by force and ACTUAL ACTIVISM. You will never be forgotten.”

Politicians also offered their condolences for Madikizela-Mandela, especially those who had worked with her over the years. “Today I mourn the loss of my dear friend and one of the greatest leaders and activists in the world: Winnie Mandela,” Rep. Maxine Waters wrote on Twitter.

Read more tributes below.

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