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Winnie Mandela Faces Accusers

November 24, 1997

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ One by one, witnesses came before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Monday with stories of murders and beatings and disappearances, in each case tying the crimes to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and her bodyguards.

President Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, who asked for the public airing, apparently believes she can overcome the longtime accusations by facing down her accusers. She is trying not only to clear her name but to lift her chances of being picked as deputy president of the ruling party during a conference next month.

Despite a roller-coaster public and private life, including a kidnapping conviction in 1991 and her divorce last year from the nation’s most beloved figure, she has maintained strong support among black women and the downtrodden.

But past acts and suspicions continue to haunt the woman once known as ``mother of the nation.″

The 1989 murder of 14-year-old activist Stompie Seipei dominated most of Monday afternoon’s testimony by her former driver, John Morgan.

Morgan was convicted with her in 1991 as an accomplice in the abduction and beating of Seipei and three other young men. Madikizela-Mandela’s sentence was later reduced to a fine.

Morgan described how physician Abu-Baker Asvat examined a badly beaten Seipei and told Madikizela-Mandela to take him to a hospital. Morgan said he later saw Seipei’s injured body lying on the floor at Madikizela-Mandela’s house.

``I was told by her to pick up the dog and drop him,″ Morgan said.

Asvat was later murdered by two men expected to testify later this week. Both have previously linked Madikizela-Mandela to Asvat’s death.

Little new information emerged from Monday’s testimony, but the details from five witnesses, some of whom broke down in tears, showed the deep emotions and bitterness that linger from acts of terror almost a decade ago.

Among the other witnesses was Phumlile Dlamini, who nervously recounted how Madikizela-Mandela had attacked her in a jealous rage in 1988 because Dlamini was pregnant by Madikizela-Mandela’s then-lover.

In a written statement that accompanied her testimony, she said Madikizela-Mandela ``slapped me in the face and hit me with her fist all over my body and in my stomach.″

A week later, Dlamini said, Madikizela-Mandela let her bodyguards beat her and kick her for hours.

Two other witnesses accused the 63-year-old Madikizela-Mandela of murdering their sons, Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala, both of whom disappeared in 1988.

``Yes, she did kill them, just like Stompie,″ said Nomsa Shabalala, the mother of Siboniso. ``I want Winnie to give my son back. I want his bones and remains.″

The Truth Commission, which investigates apartheid-era human rights abuses, is holding the week-long hearing on 18 killings and other crimes allegedly committed by Madikizela-Mandela and her former bodyguard unit, known as the Mandela United Football Club.

The accusations are a product of the repressive environment of the late 1980s, when the government crackdown on anti-apartheid groups reached its peak. That created extreme distrust in Soweto and other black townships, where banned organizations like the African National Congress already faced great dangers in trying to continue their underground activities.

For example, according to testimony Monday, Madikizela-Mandela, who has been accused by many of being especially power-hungry, insisted that Lolo Sono was a police informant. Sono’s father, Nicodemus, said Monday he last saw his son in 1988 in a van in which Madikizela-Mandela was riding. Sono said he climbed in the van to ask for mercy for his son, whose face was puffy and who apparently had been beaten badly.

But Madikizela-Mandela told Sono his son was a spy to be dealt with by the anti-apartheid movement, and the van drove away.

Madikizela-Mandela said nothing Monday. Her lawyers repeatedly characterized the witnesses’ testimony as lies, drawing several admonishments from Truth Commission chairman Desmond Tutu to limit their remarks to questions of fact.

Madikizela-Mandela could face criminal charges based on evidence uncovered by the panel.

She is running for deputy president of the party, and if successful, could be in position to become deputy president of the country in 1999.

The mainstream ANC leadership is believed to oppose her bid, and this week, strongly criticized her for her past complaints about the government.