ANC shuns Mandela's ex-wife as candidate Her failure to accept blame, her tart criticism alienate party leaders

December 13, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, severely damaged by testimony against her before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, now faces a new setback to her political ambitions.

She wants to be the vice president of the African National Congress, the party led by her former husband President Nelson Mandela. But the ANC leadership wants nothing to do with her.

The ANC's nominations committee left her name off the list of candidates this week for the party's top six slots, which will be balloted during the party's national conference at Mafeking next week.

Madikizela-Mandela could still be nominated from the conference floor, but with the ANC hierarchy solidly behind Jacob Zuma, the party's national chairman, her chances of winning are remote.

The party's slight reflects increasing alienation from a woman who has consistently criticized the ANC's failure to deliver quickly enough on its 1994 election promises of better housing, health and education for the poor. Her image was severely damaged by the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission's hearings into the deaths and beatings associated with her in the late 1980s.

She was convicted earlier of kidnapping for her involvement in the disappearance of 14-year-old Stompie Seipei, a member of her notorious gang, the Mandela United Football Club, who was murdered after being suspected of being a police informant.

Since the truth commission hearings, calls for those found to have committed gross human rights violations to be banned from holding public office have gained support here.

While the calls are clearly targeted at Madikizela-Mandela, she has not yet been declared a perpetrator of such violations. She survived her kidnapping conviction with her political base among women, the poor and disadvantaged intact. It will now be up to the commission to decide whether the testimony against her was strong enough to label her a violator of human rights when it makes its final report to Parliament in June.

At the hearings she declared her innocence of all the allegations. Reluctantly, after an emotional plea from commission chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu, she acknowledged that "things had gone terribly wrong" during the last years of apartheid. Neither an admission of guilt nor an expression of remorse, the declaration left her role in the violence wide open to question.

"She is so lacking in accountability," said Sheila Meintjes, senior lecturer in political studies at the University of Witwatersrand who specializes in women in politics here.

"She refuses to take responsibility for things that happened on her premises. She claims she had nothing to do with any of it. She obviously knew what was going on. The fact that she refused to take any measure of responsibility was viewed very dimly by senior members of the ANC."

Madikizela-Mandela's unaccountability, according to Meintjes, has also characterized her politics.

As a member of the ANC's national executive committee and national working committee, she participated in most important policy decisions. But this did not stop her from launching her pre-conference criticism of the leadership for being soft on crime, for failing to house the poor, and for not creating enough jobs.

"It was an extraordinary outburst on her part," said Meintjes. "She should have been accountable -- but she wasn't. They were very angry about her attack on the party.

"They don't want her in any leadership position. They have never wanted her in any leadership position."

In an editorial lambasting her political style and her truth commission performance, the newspaper Business Day, said this week: "It is time to stop fearing her and to take her head-on. The governing party must take its membership into its confidence and explain in clear and unequivocal terms why Madikizela-Mandela is unfit for public office."

The ANC leadership reshuffle is being caused by the resignation from the party presidency of Nelson Mandela, although he will remain as South African president until the next general election in 1999.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki is unopposed to succeed him as party president and is also heir-apparent for the national presidency.

By fielding a single candidate to take over the second slot from Mbeki, the party hierarchy has now done its best to block Madikizela-Mandela's vice presidential ambitions. But this could still backfire if there is a floor revolt at next week's conference.

Already there are strains between the party's national and provincial organizations over the perceived top-down approach of the national leadership. This could spill over into the candidacy of Madikizela-Mandela, who is already president of the ANC's Women's League, as delegates find a way to buck the leadership.

But senior members of the Women's League, which initially signaled it would nominate her for vice president of the party, have been quiet since her attack on the party leadership and her nTC appearance before the truth commission, suggesting that her support may be eroding.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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