Winnie Madikizela-Mandela should be laid to rest next to former President Nelson Mandela when she dies, jailed Abathembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo has said.

“I believe you are still married, because in our records I do not have any such record in the kingdom that dissolves such a marriage, as mandated by our customary law,” he said in a letter read at a gala dinner in Johannesburg in celebration of the struggle icon’s 80th birthday.

It was read by Nkosana (Prince) Langalibalele Mthunzi Ngonyama.

Buyelekhaya said he wrote the letter from his dark prison cell. He said he would have loved to be at the dinner.

“You were there for me as a mother throughout my dark days, when I needed love and comfort in extremely dark and life-threatening days during the apartheid era.”

The king is serving a 12-year jail term in East London’s prison for kidnapping, defeating the ends of justice, arson and assault.

In his letter, he spoke of Madikizela-Mandela’s resilient spirit. He thanked her for staying with Mandela throughout the struggle for democracy.

“If it wasn’t for your strength and your spirit, you could have lost hope and have walked away, leaving Madiba hurting and struggling. Who knows, maybe he could have surrendered himself to the enemy and ceased to fight, but your smile saw him through his dark days,” Buyelekhaya wrote.