Drug Addiction, Loss Of 2 Children And A Battle With Breast Cancer: The Life And Times of Zoleka Mandela

The Life and Times of late Zoleka Mandela, a woman who journeyed through life through pain and personal struggles.

Zoleka Mandela

News broke on Tuesday about the death of Zoleka Mandela, one of the granddaughters of anti-apartheid activist, late Nelson Mandela.

Zoleka Mandela, an author and activist lost the battle with breast cancer on Monday, September 25, 2023, at age 43.

The Mandela family announced her death in a statement adding that the breast cancer she had fought for years had been in remission but she was later diagnosed with cancer in her liver and lungs and it had metastasised and spread, her family said.

From drug and alcohol addiction to the tragedy of losing two children, Zoleka’s life was indeed one shrouded in personal struggles and pain.

Here is a brief rundown of her life and times.

Early life

Zoleka Mandela who was born on April 9, 1980, was the daughter of Zindzi Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s youngest daughter, and her first husband Zwelibanzi Hlongwane.

As a child, she suffered sexual abuse. She also hid a grenade in her schoolbag so her grandmother, who was part of the armed resistance to apartheid, wouldn’t be arrested by the regime.

By age nine, she was battling with alcohol and drug addiction which later continued into her teenage years. She spoke more about this in her 2013 autobiography.


Death paid a visit to Zoleka twice. Her 13-year-old daughter, Zenani was killed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver in 2010 on the way back from a concert that marked the opening of the soccer World Cup in South Africa. Prior to Zenani’s death, Zoleka was neck-deep in her drug and alcohol addiction and had been hospitalized due to attempted suicide. She also hadn’t seen her for 10 days prior to her death. This rude shock forced her to go to rehab.

Her second son was born prematurely in 2011 while she was being treated for cancer and died days later. She had four surviving children at the time of her death.

Love Life

She was formerly married to Thierry Bashala, the CEO of YOOPI. The couple who met in a clothing store got married in 2014 and divorced after 6 years of marriage. They had two children together, Zanyiwe and Zenzile.

Zoleka and Thierry

Shortly after her separation, Zoleka dated Leeroy Andile Cana whom she had a daughter. However, their relationship was also short-lived.

Autobiography ‘When Hope Whispers’

Zoleka released her autobiography ‘When Hope Whispers’ in 2013. It delved into some of the “unbearable circumstances” of her life and how an unusual childhood contributed to them, as she put it.

She described the struggles of growing up as a Mandela during a period of South Africa’s most severe racial segregation, the 1980s when her grandfather was imprisoned for organizing the anti-apartheid movement.

She recounted how she was smuggled into a high-security prison on an island off the coast of Cape Town when she was just a year old so that her grandfather could meet her for the first time.


She was selected as one of ‘BBC’s 100 Women’ in 2016. 100 Women is a BBC multi-format series established in 2013. The annual series examines the role of women in the 21st century and has included events in London and Mexico.


Zoleka Mandela is the founder of the Zoleka Mandela Foundation, a social upliftment foundation that was established in 2013. The foundation aims to educate people about breast cancer, road safety, and social responsibilities. The foundation also seeks to assist young people with personal growth, volunteerism, and accountability.

She became a well-known advocate for cancer awareness and road safety, receiving acclaim and appreciation for her work in both areas as well as her bravery in the final stages of the dreaded disease.

She is also a United Nations global ambassador on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and child health.

Battle with cancer

In 2011, barely a year after her daughter’s death, Zoleka was diagnosed with breast cancer with a double mastectomy and grueling chemotherapy. However, it returned in 2016.

She was admitted to the hospital on 17th September because her condition had worsened, with the cancer spreading to various parts of her body.

Zoleka frequently updated her followers about her health, sharing her challenges and optimism.

She is survived by her four children, Zenani, Zenawe, Zenani and Zwelami.


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