27 April 2003

South Africa: Winnie's Day of Shame

Johannesburg — Erstwhile 'Mother of the Nation' resigns all political positions

WINNIE Madikizela-Mandela walked out of court, clenched her fist defiantly and smiled at her cheering supporters. Yet it was a day of shame in the turbulent life of the Mother of the Nation as Magistrate Peet Johnson sentenced her to five years in jail for her role in bank fraud and theft totalling R660 000.

"Many of your years have been spent at the side of the greatest statesman of modern times, and there's no doubt that you've played an important role in the liberation struggle. But somewhere, something went wrong," he said.

"Only a fool would underplay your role in the history of this country, but the court cannot give you a free ticket to get away with the crimes committed."

The trial has left Madikizela-Mandela's long political life in tatters.

Shortly after her sentencing she announced her intention to resign from all her political posts - president of the ANC Women's League, member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, and member of Parliament.

This trial, she said, "has helped me to understand the history of the cause to which I have dedicated my life: to understand the players in the theatre of the struggle and the sacrifice that comes with that cause.

"More importantly, it has enhanced my appreciation for the support I continue to enjoy among my fellow South Africans. Their loyalty has remained unstinting and confirms to me that my life, with all its turns, is worth it. I believe it is responsible to have faith in the justice system that has self-correcting capabilities, which in the fullness of time will confirm my innocence."

Her bail was extended after her lawyers filed for appeal.

The long road to her day of shame on Friday began in October 2001 when she was charged for her involvement in theft and fraud relating to loans she and her co-accused, Addy Moolman, had obtained for bogus employees of the women's league, including her daughter Zindzi, who obtained R20 000.

The theft charges related to money taken off loan applicants' accounts for a funeral fund - of which Madikizela-Mandela was a director - but from which the applicants did not benefit. Madikizela-Mandela and Moolman both pleaded not guilty.

During a week of high drama , there were several outbursts from her supporters . On Tuesday, a woman walked from the back of the public gallery to the dock and climbed over Moolman to reach "Mama".

Then on Friday, during sentencing, a former Witwatersrand University student, known as Malcolm X, jumped up and shouted: "I will die next to you, Mama. I am nothing but your tiny servant." He was removed from court by police officers.

Madikizela-Mandela showed little emotion as senior state advocate Jan Ferreira said during sentencing that if she lost her political position because of her conviction, "she will only have herself to blame". He said the national director of public prosecutions accepted that she had played a huge and pivotal role in the history of South Africa, that she had been banished and tortured, and that her husband had been imprisoned.

"But unfortunately for her - and most probably for the country as a whole - she started to behave as if she were above the law."

Johnson told Madikizela-Mandela she had "made these false representations to help those who approached you for help. But you did not blink an eye when you took their money."

Madikizela-Mandela was sentenced to an effective eight months in jail followed by correctional service.

On the same day, Madikizela-Mandela lost another legal battle when the Cape Town High Court dismissed her attempt to stop Speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala from reprimanding her for not disclosing her financial status as required by Parliament's ethics code.

Madikizela-Mandela's resignation from politics was welcomed by parties across the spectrum. The Democratic Alliance said she was doing the "correct thing", while ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said it was "quite a moving statement" which showed she was "a leader who is still committed to serve the people of South Africa".

Thandi Modise, deputy president of the ANC Women's League, said: "We acknowledge that an oversight on the part of our president has occurred, and this will be a lesson to all of us."

See Insight and Page 17

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