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In Divorce Court, Mandela Accuses Wife of Adultery

March 18, 1996

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa _ Nelson Mandela had hoped he could settle his marital problems ``honorably and quietly, without washing our dirty linen in public.″

Instead, he was on the witness stand Monday, telling a packed courtroom that he believed his wife Winnie _ whom he referred to only as ``the defendant″ _ had cheated on him while he languished in an apartheid-era prison.

The courtroom was packed with reporters and bodyguards _ and members of the public who tut-tutted sympathetically as the president described coming home to Mrs. Mandela in 1990 after 27 years as a political prisoner.

He said he had hoped they could work out their problems during intimate talks in the privacy of their bedroom, but ``ever since I came back from jail, not once has the defendant ever entered the bedroom whilst I was awake.″

``I was the loneliest man during the period I stayed with her,″ said Mandela, standing erect in a gray suit, speaking in a clear, forceful voice and directing most of his comments to the judge.

Mrs. Mandela, wearing a gold and black silk blouse, took notes and looked down as her husband testified. When he finished, he walked over to his wife’s bench and shook hands with her and her lawyers. He was scheduled to return to the stand for cross-examination on Tuesday.

South Africans seemed both horrified and fascinated by the spectacle of one of the world’s most respected statesmen testifying about the most private aspects of his life.

``Is there such a thing as a president being divorced from his wife? Who is going to be the first lady now?″ asked Leonard Khoza, one of hundreds of people who flocked to the courthouse for a glimpse of the main players in Mandela vs. Mandela.

Before the trial, Mrs. Mandela had given newspaper interviews blaming politics for the breakdown of the 38-year marriage. But Mandela had refused to discuss his marriage since filing for divorce 18 months ago.

He said his wife rebuffed mutual friends whom he had asked to try to persuade her that ``we should settle this matter honorably and quietly, without washing our dirty linen in public.″

Mrs. Mandela has claimed the marriage has not irrevocably collapsed and demanded that her husband call tribal and family elders to help mend it. But the judge on Monday rejected her request for a postponement to give reconciliation a chance.

Under questioning from his lawyer, the president said years of rumors that his wife had been unfaithful were proven to him when a newspaper editor showed him a letter.

Mandela said he recognized the handwriting of the letter, in which the writer professed love for a Johannesburg attorney named Dali Mpofu, and said the affair had destroyed her marriage.

The letter, which was published in South African newspapers shortly after the couple separated in 1992, also linked Mpofu and Mrs. Mandela to the possible misuse of African National Congress funds.

Mrs. Mandela and Mpofu, who served on her defense team during a 1991 trial on kidnapping charges, have denied having an affair.

The letter ``confirmed my decision never to reconcile with the defendant,″ Mandela said.

The divorce ends a marriage that survived Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment and the most fiery years of the anti-apartheid struggle, only to fall apart after Mandela, 77, was freed and rose to power in South Africa’s first all-race elections.

News media over the weekend reported that Mrs. Mandela, 60, would seek 20 million rand _ about $5 million _ which she says is half of Mandela’s worth. Mandela’s salary as president is worth $142,000. He also has income from a best-selling autobiography, but most of that goes to charity.

The Mandelas separated in 1992 after Mrs. Mandela was convicted and fined in the kidnapping of four youths by her bodyguards. One of the youths was beaten to death.

The couple wed in 1958 after Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, divorced his first wife. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and imprisoned until 1990, when he was freed to negotiate an end to apartheid.

During his imprisonment, Mrs. Mandela became an anti-apartheid leader in her own right, popular with the ANC’s radical wing. But she lost influence as Mandela pushed the party along a moderate course.

Mandela fired her early last year from her post as deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology after a series of controversies. She remains a member of parliament.

After she was fired, Mrs. Mandela checked into a private clinic and was said to be suffering from diabetes.

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