JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Winnie Mandela was convicted of kidnapping yesterday by a Johannesburg judge who delivered a scathing seven-hour attack on the wife of South Africa's most prominent black leader.
Mandela was acquitted of assault charges in connection with a 1988 incident in which four young men were brought to her home and savagely beaten, but she also was found guilty as an accessory after the fact.
Judge Michael S. Stegmann said it was clear that Mandela had authorized the abduction of the young men from a church parsonage in Soweto by a group of her bodyguards, who used her minivan for the job and an old family friend as the driver.
"To imagine that all this took place without Mrs. Mandela as one of the moving spirits is like trying to imagine Hamlet without the prince," the judge told a packed courtroom as he recapped the trial and offered a detailed analysis of each witness.
Judge Stegmann is expected to announce sentences today. He has heard testimony in the controversial case since Feb. 4. There are no jury trials and no black judges in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela sat in the public gallery and his wife sat impassively in the defendant's box facing the judge as he accused her of being deliberately vague and misleading in attempts to cover up what happened at her home in December 1988.
"She showed herself on many occasions to be a calm, composed, deliberate and unblushing liar," Judge Stegmann asserted.
But he said that the prosecution had not disproved her alibi that she was out of town when the kidnapping and assault took place and therefore that she could not be found guilty on the four counts of assault.
Mandela, a social worker by profession, said she was 200 miles away in the town of Brandfort planning social-work projects, and her defense attorney produced two witnesses who supported her alibi.
Judge Stegmann said it was "reasonably possible" that she was in Brandfort, despite inconsistencies between her testimony and that of the two corroborating witnesses, and that it was possible the assault was not part of her original plan.
But he said she would certainly have learned soon after she returned that the assault had taken place, and yet she continued to feed and house the assailants and she allowed them to continue holding the youths hostage on her property.
Because she provided that aid, Judge Stegmann found her guilty as an accessory after the fact -- a less serious charge than assault. "She gave assistance to the offenders and
accordingly made herself an accessory," he said.
Mandela told reporters that she had no comment "as long as you all know I did not assault any child. That is all that matters to me. The rest I will leave to my attorneys."
Two witnesses had testified during the trial, which began Feb. 4, that Mandela had slapped, punched and whipped them during an assault behind her house. One of the four kidnap victims was a 14-year-old activist, Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, whose badly beaten body was found a week after the abduction. Mandela's chief bodyguard, Jerry Richardson, was convicted of his murder last year.
Mandela was one of eight people charged in connection with the abduction, but four of the accused jumped bail, and police have not been able to find them to stand trial. Charges were dropped against a fifth defendant, an 18-year-old girl.
That left Mandela standing trial with two others -- Xoliswa Falati, 38, and John Morgan, 61. Falati was found guilty on all eight counts of kidnapping and assault. Morgan was convicted of kidnapping but was acquitted on the assault charges.
It was Falati's charges of homosexual activity at the Methodist Church parsonage that led to the plan to remove the four young men from the parsonage, according to testimony. Falati said she
to Mandela's home without her knowledge to protect them from the white minister who was abusing them. But Judge Stegmann said there might have been other reasons that were not so "high-minded."
Witnesses said there had been tensions between the minister, Paul Verryn, and Falati, who lived at the Methodist house for two months in 1988.
Judge Stegmann suggested there also might have been a "falling out" between Mandela and the minister, both of whom were in the business of providing refuge for troubled boys.
Defense attorneys produced two young men who testified that Reverend Verryn had made sexual advances toward them, but Judge Stegmann said that their testimony had been so inconsistent and self-contradictory that they were clearly being used "as pawns in a game being played by Mrs. Mandela and Miss Falati."
Judge Stegmann called Falati a "clever, resourceful and therefore particularly dangerous liar" who was obviously hostile to the white minister and was determined to discredit him.
Morgan, an old family friend of the Mandelas, drove Mandela's minivan on the night of the kidnapping.
Judge Stegmann said it was implausible that a "mature and independent man" with such close ties to the Mandela family would have gone along simply as the driver without being aware of the kidnapping plan.