Madikizela-Mandela is silent on bishop's plea for reconciliation She declines to respond to false sex-abuse claims tying cleric to slain teen

November 27, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela remained silent yesterday as a Methodist bishop, who gave shelter to Stompie Seipei before he was abducted to her home and killed, appealed to her for "reconciliation."

Stompie and three other young men were taken from Paul Verryn's Soweto mission home after Madikizela-Mandela had been falsely told that the minister was guilty of sexual abuse, according to testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's investigation of violence surrounding the then wife Nelson Mandela in the 1980s, before he was elected president.

The young men were beaten by Madikizela-Mandela and members of her notorious Mandela United Football Club until they confessed to being abused by Verryn.

Verryn broke down as he apologized to Stompie's mother for failing to save her 14-year-old son's life. He told the commission he had been on vacation and returned to his mission house, where the four young men were staying after he had given them sanctuary.

His brief visit interrupted an interrogation of Stompie in the mission house over the allegation that the youth was a police informer, Verryn said. Stompie, surrounded by his inquisitors, was sitting on the floor crying.

"I immediately intervened," Verryn said. "Under no circumstances did I want in my mission house what was happening in every police station."

He told the group that Stompie was only a child, and there was nothing they could do anyway about the police using informers. He resumed his vacation, thinking the matter was resolved. The next day, Dec. 29, 1988, Stompie and the other three were abducted from the mission to Madikizela-Mandela's house.

"The thing that has been most difficult for me," he told Stompie's mother, his voice breaking, "is that, having heard the allegations [of Stompie being a police informer] I didn't remove him from the mission and get him to a place where he could be saved."

To Madikizela-Mandela, who repeatedly has denounced him as an abusive homosexual, the minister -- elevated to bishop after being cleared by police and church investigations into his conduct -- said:

"I long for our reconciliation. I have been profoundly, profoundly affected by some of the things you have said about me. They have hurt me and cut me to the quick."

Madikizela-Mandela appeared unusually moved, but through her attorney, Ishmail Semenya, she declined an offer to respond immediately from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the commission.

Contrasting with the first two days of testimony of assault, disappearances and stabbings, yesterday was a day of personal and emotional confrontation as first Verryn and then his church superior, Bishop Peter Storey, appealed to the woman who was once known as "mother of the nation" to retract her accusations of homosexual abuse.

As the weight of the evidence against her has grown each day, Madikizela-Mandela's demeanor has changed from seeming confidence to apparent concern. The ready smile has given way to tight-lipped asides to attorney Semenya.

From her attorney's questions to witnesses it is clear she is relying on three lines of defense: blaming the violence associated with her on the coach of her football club, Jerry Richardson, who already has confessed to the murder of Stompie and two other young men; questioning the credibility of her accusers, and presenting herself as a "mama" figure concerned only about the welfare of the young men who came to her house.

It is not proving an easy case to make.

Richardson's lawyer told the commission yesterday: "He did everything with the full knowledge and co-operation of Mrs. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela."

When Semenya suggested to Storey, a key player in trying to secure the release of the kidnapped four, that the young captive's movements were being restricted by Richardson rather that Madikizela-Mandela, the bishop replied:

"Not at all. My recollection is absolutely clear that decisions as to whether access would be granted were Mrs. Mandela's decisions."

"I think the kidnap and murder of Stompie Seipei are important beyond the normal horror we should feel," said Storey in a closing statement to the commission. "Because at one level they may have been common law crimes. But they are also about the ruthless abuse of power.

"This tragedy we have lived through in this country has done things to people we will never measure. It has wounded. It has hurt. It has destroyed people's ability to know the difference between right and wrong.

"This case is about becoming human again and recognizing the inhumanity which some of us were capable of because of the time in which we lived."

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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