Magazine article New African

Winnie Downed, but Not out. (Feature)

Magazine article New African

Winnie Downed, but Not out. (Feature)

Article excerpt

In our last issue, we predicted that where apartheid failed, the democratic order might just succeed in silencing the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela and a remarkably courageous woman who contributed in no small measure to the demise of apartheid. It is only half time now, as Winnie Mandela is appealing against her latest conviction.

The verdict was guilty on 43 counts of fraud, and 25 counts of theft. Her crime was that as president of the ANC Women's League, she signed letters to secure loans for bogus employees of the League (see NA, May). On the theft charges, it was found that she and her co-accused Addy Moolman had stolen from these loan applicants by deducting 360 rand from the loans granted for a non-existent funeral scheme. Winnie and Moolman were directors of that nonexistent funeral insurance company. It was alleged that Moolman masterminded the whole operation.

In finding her guilty, the magistrate, Peet Johnson, of the Pretoria Regional Court said Winnie used R6,300 from the deducted money to pay her personal bodyguards. But it was not proved that she set out to personally benefit from the scheme.

Lapping it, the prosecutor, Jan Fereira, in aggravation of sentence, told the magistrate: "It is given that Mrs Mandela endured great hardship and contributed greatly to the new dispensation. Unfortunately something went wrong somewhere. She started to act as if she was above the law. She has no respect for institutions of state. Should this be the end of her political career, she only has herself to blame."

The magistrate agreed: "Only a fool," he said, "will dispute the role Mrs Iviandela played during the struggle and in the new dispensation ... but no one is above the law."

The sentence was five years in jail, with one year suspended. She will not have to do all of the effective four-year jail term--three years and four months of it will have to be spent doing correctional service, reducing the actual time to be spent in jail to eight months.

But Winnie has appealed against the conviction and sentence, and, at the time of writing, she was out free on a R10,000 bail awaiting the outcome of the appeal that could rake months to be heard.

Her co-accused, Moolman, described as "an accomplished liar" by the magistrate, was found guilty of 58 counts of fraud and 25 counts of theft. He received seven years in jail of which two years were suspended, an effective five years in jail.

Winnie's political career now seems to be in tatters. But will she go quietly? Her resume speaks for itself. While apartheid lasted, Winnie, effectively a "widow and single mother", stood like a collossus staring down the barrel of apartheid guns while others were in jail or fought the fight from the safe capitals of foreign countries.

She was the difference between the ground troops in the line of fire, and the generals in their safe bunkers, far from the madding crowd. She led from the front. And for many black South Africans, when all seemed lost and impossible, she stood our as the only beacon of hope.

It is not the first time she has had a brush with the law. Her first employment as the first black social worker in the country, brought her directly into contact with the grinding poverty afflicting blacks in a sea of white opulence that has not changed much, except that a few nouveaux riches blacks have been brought to the dinner table.

For her role in the Soweto Uprising in 1977, she was banished for nine years to Branfort in the Orange Free State province. Since then, she has been a victim of police and intelligence community harassment which has not stopped even in the democratic order.

Although her 1991 conviction by the apartheid regime for the kidnapping and assault of Stompie Sepei, a 14-year-old activist, damaged her reputation at the time, she bounced back. Ironically the apartheid regime itself had its hands awash with the blood of many black children who had been kidnapped, assaulted, terrorised, tortured and murdered. …

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