Mandela's former wife expected to surrender today

Madikizela-Mandela accused of bank fraud

October 18, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - From the elegant halls of Parliament in Cape Town to the dusty, traffic-choked streets of Soweto, it is South Africa's burning question: Is it all over for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela?

The authorities have announced that Madikizela-Mandela, the prominent political leader and former wife of Nelson Mandela, will be charged today with defrauding a bank of more than $103,000.

Madikizela-Mandela has vehemently denied the accusations.

Henriette Bester, a spokeswoman for the South African police, said Madikizela-Mandela would face 30 charges of fraud and 25 charges of theft when she turns herself in today. She is expected to post bail. If convicted, Madikizela-Mandela, who is in her mid-60s, faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, officials say.

Madikizela-Mandela is president of the African National Congress Women's League and a member of Parliament. In recent months, she has been investigated by government auditors for failing to pay taxes and has been snubbed by President Thabo Mbeki.

Two weeks ago, the police raided an informal tavern in Soweto she owned and arrested a woman for selling liquor without a license. Norman Ponnusamy, a spokesman for Soweto police, said Makikizela-Mandela was not present during the raid.

In the bank fraud case, officials say Madikizela-Mandela was involved in a scheme in which a co-defendant obtained personal loans for fictitious Women's League employees by using her name and letterhead to support fraudulent loan applications.

Madikizela-Mandela has publicly denied the charges. In an interview with the City Press newspaper Sunday, she acknowledged financial problems but said the inquiry was inspired by her rivals within the ANC. She also told the paper she found it odd to be charged because she was the one to report the crime.

She has been one of Mbeki's most vocal critics, assailing him for questioning whether HIV causes AIDS and condemning the government for promoting conservative economic polices that she says neglect the poor. "One can safely conclude that the campaign is being waged within my organization," Madikizela-Mandela said.

She was divorced in 1996 from Mandela, South Africa's first black president. In 1997, three years after white rule ended here, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard evidence from about 30 witnesses that she ordered torture and murders in Soweto in the late 1980s - allegations she denied.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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