Winnie Mandela convicted of theft, fraud

Business associate also guilty of similar charges


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela who was once exalted as the "Mother of the Nation," was convicted of dozens of charges of theft and fraud yesterday.

Madikizela-Mandela, 66, considered one of the most powerful figures in this country's fight against apartheid, could be sentenced to 15 years in jail on 43 counts of fraud and 25 counts of theft. A business associate, Andy Moolman, was found guilty of 58 charges of fraud and 25 of theft. They had been charged with 60 counts of fraud and 25 counts of theft.

A regional court in Pretoria found that she had used her position as president of the African National Congress Women's League to secure fraudulent loans and funeral policies for poor women, and then pilfered more than $100,000 from those accounts. Sentencing proceedings are scheduled today.

Speaking before a packed courtroom, Magistrate Peet Johnson rejected defense arguments that Madikizela-Mandela signed documents without checking the contents. He called the evidence against her and Moolman "overwhelming."

"Both knew full well that the content of the letters were false," he said, "and that it would secure loans for people who did not qualify for them."

The ever-defiant Madikizela-Mandela watched with icy calm. Upon leaving the courtroom, she lifted a fist to salute a crowd that chanted their support.

The convictions marked a new low in the downfall of a woman whose story of courage against the racist attacks by this country's former white-minority regime won her admiration around the world. During the 27 years that Mandela was in prison, his ex-wife helped carry on his struggle, even through intimidation and torture.

Although Mandela's release set this country on the path toward a peaceful transition to its first black government, it marked the start of new troubles for his wife. In 1991 she was convicted of kidnapping and serving as an accessory to assault in connection with the death of a 14-year-old boy.

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