THE RE-ELECTION OF Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as president of the Women's League of the African National Congress has all the potential of throwing a monkey wrench into her former husband's carefully crafted succession plans. South Africa President Nelson Mandela has made it clear he views Deputy President Thabo Mbeki as his heir apparent.
The problem is Mr. Mbeki does not have the charisma of Nelson Mandela. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela does. And she enjoys wide support among South African women.
Ever since his release from 27 years in imprisonment, Mr. Mandela has dazzled the world by his pragmatic political vision. He has done the impossible: He has made South Africans of all races proud of being South Africans.
Ms. Madikizela-Mandela, in contrast, is not a unifier. She is a ruthless demagogue and opportunist. But because of her persecution, imprisonment and marriage to Mr. Mandela, she is the mother of the anti-apartheid campaign.
It is quite amazing that her popularity among the ANC Women's League activists continues despite a never-ending stream of damaging disclosures. She conducted a brazen adulterous relationship which doomed her marriage to Nelson Mandela. She was involved in the 1986 kidnapping of 14-year-old Stompie Seipei, who was murdered by her bodyguard. As a minister in the Mandela government, she was accused of corruption, insubordination and unauthorized spending. Yet despite open hostility from her former husband, she has retained her political base.
While Mr. Mandela enjoys strong support across South Africa's racial spectrum, his former wife's strength is in the black townships. She may or may not be a Marxist, but she appeals to the urban proletariat. Mr. Mandela has been successful in easing white fears about black rule. She is feared as a racial polarizer.
If Ms. Madikizela-Mandela decides to challenge the succession arrangements her former husband has made, South Africa is likely to experience increased internal tensions and a greater exodus of professionals who can find work abroad. Foreign investors, whose enthusiasm for South Africa's untapped market potential is already tempered by soaring violent crimes, will become even more skittish.
Pub Date: 5/04/97