Winnie Mandela again target of barrage of accusations

April 13, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- "How I lied to save Winnie," screamed the front-page headline in a Sunday paper.

"How much truth is hidden among the lies?" blared another headline about South Africa's most famous -- now infamous -- woman.

"Winnie: the ANC's recurring nightmare."

From hiding, from jail cells, from the safety of anonymity, people are again making accusations about Winnie Mandela, wife of South Africa's most prominent black leader.

Some are even speculating that Nelson Mandela is about to leave the woman who helped to keep his legend alive for 27 years while he sat in South African jails. The reason, the speculation goes, is that the strong-willed, high-spirited Mrs. Mandela is trouble and that she could hurt her husband and the African National Congress, which he leads.

In the latest revelation, reported in yesterday's Johannesburg-based Sunday Times, Mrs. Mandela's former driver said that Mrs. Mandela led the assault on four boys brought to her home in December 1988 and that he lied in court to protect her.

One of the boys, Stompie Moeketsi, was killed, and Mrs. Mandela's chief bodyguard was convicted and sentenced to death for murder.

Mrs. Mandela was convicted of kidnapping and being accessory to assault, and her driver, John Morgan, 64, was convicted of kidnapping.

The judge said that there was not sufficient proof that Mrs. Mandela was in her Soweto home when the boys were assaulted, but he concluded that the kidnapping and assault could not have taken place without her knowledge and approval.

Morgan was acquitted of assault but convicted of kidnapping because he drove the car.

Mrs. Mandela and her co-defendants said the boys were taken to her home because they were being abused by a white homosexual minister. Mrs. Mandela said she was not at home when the assault occurred.

Contradicting his court testimony, Morgan told the Sunday Times that Mrs. Mandela whipped and punched the boys and later told him to take Stompie "and dump him."

"I knew he was dead because he had already been stabbed and had blood on his neck," said Morgan, who told the Sunday Times he is in hiding for his safety.

After he was arrested, Morgan said, he was visited in jail by Mrs. Mandela, who said she would take care of him if he lied by testifying that she was out of town on the night of the crime. "She said she would see me right later," he said.

The trouble with Morgan's new statement is that it comes after Mrs. Mandela stopped giving him money for his appeal. Both he and Xoliswa Falati, who also was convicted of kidnapping and assault, only started talking after they were abandoned by their former leader.

"Winnie used me and dumped me," Mr. Morgan said, echoing a comment made by Falati, who was thrown out of the Mandela house where she had been living.

Mrs. Mandela's lawyer said Falati seemed to expect to be supported indefinitely. He confirmed that Mrs. Mandela asked her to leave the house and suggested Falati was merely being vindictive.

Others who have come forward to implicate Mrs. Mandela are equally suspect. Another defendant, Katiza Cebekhulu, who fled days before the trial, has told a newspaper that Mrs. Mandela ordered the killing of a doctor who saw Stompie after he was beaten at the Mandela home.

Because of the questionable credibility of those making the accusations, it is unlikely any new charges will be filed against Mrs. Mandela. But none of this will help when her appeal on the kidnapping and related charges comes to court April 30.

Mrs. Mandela was sentenced to six years in prison but was freed pending her appeal. Mr. Mandela stood by her through the trial, but there are now rumors that the marriage is strained and that he is on the verge of leaving his wife.

Mrs. Mandela's lawyer, Ismail Ayob, read a statement last week branding the new accusations "a rehash of gossip" and disparaging the credibility of Falati and the fugitive, Mr. Cebekhulu. He said Mr. Mandela had seen and approved the statement, but Mr. Mandela himself made no public statement.

The truth about Mrs. Mandela's conduct is elusive, but there is no doubt that she surrounded herself with thugs, liars and -- apparently -- murderers while her husband was in jail for his political beliefs.

Once labeled the "mother of the nation" and admired around the world, she is now being talked about as a liability to her husband and his organization.

"Her extraordinary spirit, honed to razor-sharpness during more than two decades of banning orders, imprisonment and finally banishment . . . swung around wildly, hitting out at inappropriate targets, eventually rebounding on the woman herself," said the Weekly Mail, a liberal newspaper.

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