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Monday, December 1, 1997 Published at 20:55 GMT


Winnie hearing adjourned after intimidation claims

South Africa'sTruth Commission has adjourned the hearings into alleged crimes committed by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela after allegations that witnesses were intimidated.

Hanif Vally, a lawyer representing the Truth Commission, alleged that Mrs Mandela had interfered with at least three witnesses.

There has also been a death threat made against a lawyer representing one of the men who accused President Mandela's ex-wife of murder.

Mrs Mandela's lawyer, Ishmael Semenya, refused to give a categorical assurance that his client had not and would not interfere with people giving evidence to the Commission.

[ image: Winnie 'supporters' make their presence felt]
Winnie 'supporters' make their presence felt
The adjournment came as hearings into allegations surrounding Mrs Mandela moved into a second week.

As the hearing began, eight men dressed in combat fatigues entered the hall and stood in a prominent position. They were believed to be supporters of Mrs Mandela.

Peter Solly, the lawyer acting for witness Cyril Mbata asked Archbishop Tutu for special protection for Mr Mbata's family, because they felt intimidated by Mrs Mandela's bodyguards.

[ image: Archbishop Tutu 'will not tolerate intimidation']
Archbishop Tutu 'will not tolerate intimidation'
Mr Sully also said he had received a death threat at home soon after he accepted the brief.

Archbishop Tutu said he would not tolerate any intimidation of witnesses or their families and adjourned the hearing for consultations.

Mr Mbata has changed his evidence dramatically. Before the Commission hearing, Mr Mbata claimed he was a passive member of a team that killed a prominent Soweto doctor.

But last week, in a BBC interview, he directly implicated Winnie Mandela in the murder.

Key witness tightlipped on Asvat killing

Earlier in the day, the respected anti-apartheid activist Albertina Sisulu disappointed those who allege that Winnie Mandela ordered the killing of Dr Ebrahim Asvat because he knew too much about atrocities committed at her house.

Mrs Sisulu, who was Dr Asvat's receptionist, said she heard the two shots and a scream from the doctor's consulting room after she let in two young men. But she denied seeing Mrs Mandela visiting the doctor earlier in the day.

She was referring to a claim by one of Winnie's former supporters, Katiza Cebekhulu, that Winnie Mandela and Dr Asvat had a "volcanic row" after the doctor refused to back up false sodomy claims against a local priest.

[ image: Albertina Sisulu: suffering from
Albertina Sisulu: suffering from "Struggle morality"?
During the hearing Mrs Sisulu, the wife of Walter Sisulu who was in jail with Nelson Mandela, contradicted statements made in a BBC interview that seemed to implicate Mrs Mandela in Dr Asvat's death.

Her evidence was regarded as crucial to Mrs Mandela's alibis for the period in question.

But Mrs Sisulu, once a close friend of Mrs Mandela, said she could recall very little about the day of the murder - January 27th, 1989.

One of the commissioners, Dunisa Ntsebesa, hinted that Mrs Sisulu was suffering from what is known as "struggle morality".

He said: " You are trying your very best to say as little as possible anything that might implicate Mrs Mandela. Is it because you wouldn't like to be the one identified in South African history as having dared to speak about your comrade?"

Later in the week, the Commission is due to hear from Mrs Mandela herself who vigorously denies accusations of assault, abduction and murder.

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