Fraud allegations keep Winnie Mandela in limelight

May 26, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Winnie Mandela is not one for quiet exits.

To the apparent chagrin of some officials of the African National Congress, of which she remains a controversial member, Mrs. Mandela is still front-page news in South Africa.

Some had hoped she would slip from the limelight after the breakup of her marriage to ANC leader Nelson Mandela last month and that she would lose her claim to power in South Africa's top black political organization.

The power slippage is occurring as expected. She was ousted last weekend from a second ANC position -- regional chairman of the Women's League. But the fascination with South Africa's most famous woman has not waned even a little.

In recent days, Mrs. Mandela has become the subject of a new round of reports, this time linking her to thousands of dollars in missing funds from the ANC department she headed until last month.

She denied the charges, and the ANC branded them "an orgy of allegations and speculation" -- although some of its own officials were named as sources of the reports.

"I have been reliably informed that if you have a Winnie Mandela headline, you sell twice as many papers as you normally would," said Mrs. Mandela's former assistant, Dali Mpofu, a 29-year-old lawyer who is rumored to be romantically linked to her.

He blamed an "unholy alliance" of greedy newspapers and political opponents for the latest allegations.

Mrs. Mandela's fighting spirit has resurfaced in the weeks since she broke up with her husband and tearfully resigned her post as head of the ANC's social welfare department.

"It would appear that a renewed campaign of vilification is being waged against me," she said in a statement issued to the South African Press Association. "It would seem that my resignation as head of the department of social welfare was not enough for my detractors."

Mrs. Mandela added that she had no intention of leaving the anti-apartheid ANC. "I did not join the ANC to please anybody," she said. "I will be an ANC member until my dying day."

Once considered the embodiment of the liberation struggle, Mrs. Mandela was pressured to resign the social welfare position last month amid new charges of her involvement in criminal activities.

She already stands convicted of kidnapping and assault-related charges in connection with the 1988 death of a teen-age activist, a case that has caused the ANC untold embarrassment as it seeks to negotiate with the white-minority regime on the terms for a fair and democratic government.

Last month, Mrs. Mandela's co-defendants began to further implicate her in wrongdoing and the rumors of misspent funds in her department began to circulate.

City Press, a weekly newspaper with a mostly black circulation, reported Sunday that Mrs. Mandela and Mr. Mpofu spent lavishly and traveled in style to London and New York last year, using ANC funds that were meant to help poor exiles resettle in South Africa.

Other newspapers quoted ANC sources as saying the organization is investigating the misappropriation of about $150,000 in funds from Mrs. Mandela's old department. The ANC issued a statement yesterday denying that any funds were missing.

"At no time has any department of the ANC been accused of such misuse of funds," the organization said in a formal written statement.

It added that the ANC had not paid for Mrs. Mandela's trips overseas. "She was the guest of U.S. organizations."

Yet Mr. Mpofu was summarily fired this month by the ANC executive board from his position as deputy head of the department of social welfare.

He has threatened to sue the organization for unfair labor practices, a threat that has been ignored by his elders in the ANC who frown on his much-talked-about friendship with the 57-year-old Mrs. Mandela.

Meanwhile, a pro-Winnie faction of the ANC Women's League demanded her reinstatement last week to the social welfare job and blamed her ouster on political enemies who felt threatened by her power and popularity. It was a move Mrs. Mandela is believed to have orchestrated. But the action backfired badly.

The national governing board of the Women's League indefinitely suspended Mrs. Mandela Sunday from the post she held in the Women's League -- regional chairwoman -- and criticized the pro-Winnie faction for holding a sit-in on her behalf at ANC headquarters.

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