Looking sombre and tense, Mr Mandela told reporters in Cape Town: "This decision has been taken both in the interests of good government and to ensure the highest standards of discipline." Mrs Mandela lost her post as deputy minister for arts, culture, science and technology, but kept her seat in parliament, her membership of the ANC and her presidency of the rump of the ANC Women's League.
The president's decision has been a long time coming, but became almost inevitable as Mrs Mandela, convicted of kidnapping in 1991, raised her tone of angry defiance in recent months.
She had defied orders not to travel abroad, was named in a series of sleazy allegations, and attacked the government, accusing it of delaying action to redress the ills of apartheid and trying to share "the silk sheets" of the rich white community.
That last message had a resonance in the poor black townships and squatter camps, forcing Mr Mandela painstakingly to rally support against her. His strategy paid off. Mainstream movements of nearly all shades of political opinion backed his decision to sack her, from the more radical ANC Youth League to the right-wing Afrikaner Freedom Front.
Mrs Mandela was said to be too shocked to respond yesterday, but the 61-year-old firebrand was already feeling intense pressure over the weekend. Writs flew and were withdrawn. At times she vowed she had not meant to defy Mr Mandela, then attacked his role as host of last week's visit by the Queen, saying £450,000 was wasted on "a British Queen". Winnie Mandela's staff and admirers have often dubbed her the Queen of Africa.
For many South Africans, taking action against Mrs Mandela was a key sign that the ANC was serious about ruling responsibly, rather than reigning as a victorious liberation movement only concerned with keeping the unity of all its factions.
Populist heroine, page 9Reuse content