JOHANNESBURG — JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Winnie Mandela, the wife of South Africa's most prominent black leader, was charged with kidnapping and assault yesterday in a case that threatens to sidetrack South Africa's political reform process.
The charges were announced by Johannesburg District Attorney General Klaus von Lieres, who recently prosecuted Mrs. Mandela's former bodyguard in the 1989 slaying of a teen-age activist who was abducted and taken to Mrs. Mandela's Soweto home.
Jerry Richardson was sentenced to death last month for thmurder of James "Stompie" Moeketsi, 14, and seven other members of the bodyguard contingent are facing trial on kidnapping and assault charges in connection with the case.
The announcement that Mrs. Mandela would be tried along with the seven others was the latest jolt to the reform process that began in February, when President F. W. de Klerk legalized the African National Congress and released Nelson Mandela from prison.
The reform process was in trouble already because of the recent violence that has rocked dozens of black townships. The ANC has charged that government security forces are instigating and joining in the fighting, and the organization has suggested it might pull out of the negotiating process in protest.
The news that Mrs. Mandela would be prosecuted was also a jolto the ANC. Only last month, Mrs. Mandela was appointed director ofthe ANC's social welfare department.
ANC Secretary-General Alfred Nzo said it was "improper" for the organization to comment on the case since "the matter is now in the hands of the courts."
Mr. von Lieres said he decided to charge Mrs. Mandela "aftecareful consideration of all the facts," and he said he chose to delay his decision until the Richardson case had ended.
Three men testified during the Richardson trial that Mrs. Mandela was at her home Dec. 29, 1988, when they were abducted from a Methodist church by Richardson and other members of the Mandela bodyguard. They said Mrs. Mandela beat them with her fists and a whip and allowed her bodyguards to continue assaulting them.
The judge in the Richardson case issued a statement at the enof the trial, saying that credible evidence pointed to the conclusion that Mrs. Mandela was present during at least some of the beatings in her home. She has made no recent statements
about the case but earlier denied that she was present when any assaults took place.
Mrs. Mandela was denounced by leaders of the anti-apartheicommunity when the case first came to light last year. But after her husband was released from 27 years in prison, he charged that the government was trying to damage her reputation by spreading rumors but not giving her a chance to defend herself in court.
"In various quarters it has been claimed that Mrs. Mandela has been unjustly victimized by being refused an opportunity to defend herself," the attorney general said. "My decision to prosecute Mrs. Mandela was taken not in response to these various claims and statements, whether they are correct or not, but because of my understanding of the facts, the law of the land and my duty as attorney general to uphold and apply the law to all alike."
He said Mrs. Mandela would be charged with four counts of kidnapping and four counts of assault "with intent to commit grievous bodily harm."