WORLD

Fighting back

Winnie Mandela battles her accusers

JOHN BIERMAN March 6 1989
WORLD

Fighting back

Winnie Mandela battles her accusers

JOHN BIERMAN March 6 1989

Fighting back

WORLD

SOUTH AFRICA

Winnie Mandela battles her accusers

Winnie Mandela, ostracized by her own countrymen—the black men and women who make up the vast majority of South Africans—battled back furiously last week. Ignoring the reported advice of her few remaining supporters to remain silent, the fallen idol of the South African freedom movement spoke out against those who had condemned her for condoning—perhaps even encouraging—the violent activities of her bodyguards, the socalled Mandela United Football Club.

“I feel a sense of total betrayal,” said the wife of jailed African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela in a British television interview. She added that she is “appalled” that her onetime associates would believe that she could be responsible for the murder of 14-year-old activist Stompie Moeketsi who the police charge was beaten to death in Mandela’s home. In fact, Mandela went one bizarre step further: without providing details, she claimed that Stompie was not dead at all—and that the badly decomposed body buried last Saturday was not his.

But she did not seem to win any converts. Stompie’s mother, Esabelle Seipei, had identified the body, and police said that fingerprint experts also made a positive identification.

As Mandela gave vent to her anger, four of her bodyguards, arrested last week, were in police custody. Two of them—both juveniles—were later released into the custody of their parents. But football club manager Jerry Richardson, 27, and a man named Jabu Sithole were held on charges of abducting and killing Stompie. Meanwhile, Nelson Mandela—the black nationalist leader serving a life sentence for treason and who is now confined to a house at a prison near Cape Town—called in his two top legal advisers to discuss the crisis. Some observers said that the Stompie case had helped turn black opinion irreparably against his wife. “People here think that Winnie should pipe down,” said an African journalist in close touch with Soweto, the turbulent township on the far outskirts of Johannesburg where Winnie lives. “She has been sitting on a powder keg for months and shouldn’t complain now that it has gone off under her.”

Adding to the suspicions surrounding Mandela’s bodyguards were two other murders and a lethal shooting incident. In the first case, four men were charged last week with the Jan. 12

murder of football club member Maxwell Madondo in what Soweto sources said was a revenge killing. And in another twist of the revenge spiral, a 13-year-old girl was killed in a hail of gunfire as unknown men attacked and burned the house of a woman allegedly involved in the Madondo murder. Also last week,

two men were charged with the Jan. 27 murder of Abu-Baker Asvat, an Indian doctor and political activist practising in Soweto. Mandela has said that Asvat could have proved her claim that Stompie and three other boys abducted by her bodyguards had been sexually abused by the white Methodist minister in charge of the hostel where they lived. But her critics said that Asvat might have been killed because he could prove that the boy had not been molested. Quite possibly both theories are false: in court last week, one of the accused said that he had shot Asvat during a $70 robbery.

Although a Methodist church inquiry exonerated the minister of sexual abuse charges, Mandela repeated her charges last week and also accused the South African Council of Churches of deliberately planning her downfall. A Methodist church spokesman dismissed her claims as “absurd.” Mandela also accused the South African security forces of being part of a conspiracy against her to “destabilize the political situation within the black community”—

one point on which she and the exiled leadership of the ANC in Lusaka, Zambia, seem to agree. Last week, the state-run South African Broadcasting Corp. ran an unprecedented interview from Lusaka with ANC spokesman Tom Sebina, who cannot normally be quoted in South Africa under current media laws. Sebina repeated an earlier ANC statement that police had helped provoke the controversy by infiltrating the football club. At the same time, another ANC statement pointedly sent condolences to Stompie’s mother, calling him “a committed young lion who made an immense contribution in the mobilization of the youth.” That assessment was shared by many black South Africans. In Tumahole, a black township southwest of Johannesburg where he was bom, Stompie had been the leader of an army of some 1,500 boys, all under 14, who were

armed with sticks, stones and lead-pipes. He became known in the black community as “the little general” for his exploits in fighting black right-wing vigilantes. At only 10, he became the country’s youngest detainee under stateof-emergency regulations; he was released after 11 months. And although he had very little formal education, black admirers said that Stompie had an extraordinary grasp of political ideas and a flair for public speaking.

But Stompie’s days as a leader were numbered. Late last year, after his army was smashed by the vigilantes, he fled to Soweto, finding a home in the Methodist hostel. With his home-town funeral on Saturday, Stompie’s brief life and cruel death passed into legend. But the end of the story of Winnie Mandela, the so-called mother of black South Africa who has been transformed from heroine to pariah, has yet to be written—leaving the anti-apartheid movement in decided disarray.

JOHN BIERMAN