Winnie Mandela faces her accusers South Africa: President's former wife is depicted as a power-hungry murderer.

November 26, 1997

WINNIE MADIKIZELA-Mandela may regret that she opted for open hearings before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: The former wife of Nelson Mandela, who hopes to win the No. 2 spot in the African National Congress, is being depicted as a power-hungry murderer.

"She dehumanizes a person," one of her former friends told the commission this week. "She reduces a person to nothing. She regards herself as a demigod, as a super being."

Ms. Madikizela-Mandela has never managed to shake the stigma of her conviction for kidnapping Stompie Seipei, a 14-year-old youth brutally murdered by her bodyguards. But never before has testimony linked her to six murders during the final years of apartheid.

The proceedings before the fact-finding commission come at a politically explosive time in South Africa. Just before Christmas, President Mandela is scheduled to relinquish his duties as head of the ruling African National Congress. The top post is likely to go to Thabo Mbeki, who then in two years should be a shoo-in to succeed Mr. Mandela as the country's president.

If these carefully laid plans for orderly succession are upset, about the only person who could do so is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Despite the accusations against her, she remains, at 63, a charismatic figure with a strong following among South Africa's poorest residents. During next month's ANC meeting, she wants to be elected to the party's No. 2 job. If she wins that office, she would have a good shot at the country's deputy presidency in 1999.

Two radically different portrayals exist of Ms. Madikizela-Mandela: The mother of the anti-apartheid movement, a selfless and dedicated fighter; or a willful schemer, wastrel of public funds -- and a murderer.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not a court of law. But we hope that the testimony it hears can establish beyond any question the truth about Winnie Mandela.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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