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Saturday, November 29, 1997 Published at 10:22 GMT

The Winnie Mandela Trial

Profile of Winnie Mandela
image: [ Happier times for Winnie ]
Happier times for Winnie

Winnie Mandela was born in 1934 at Bizana, Pondoland, in the Transkei.

She qualified as a social worker in 1953 and met her future husband, Nelson, while working at a hospital in the black township of Soweto in 1957. They married in June 1958, despite her father's objections that Nelson was too committed to politics and, at the age of 41, too old for her.

Their early married life was punctuated by raids as the police cracked down on the ANC and by periods when Nelson was absent - either in hiding or in prison awaiting trial. Eventually, Nelson was jailed for life in 1964.

[ image: Leading the struggle]
Leading the struggle
Until then, Winnie had been involved in ANC politics but was not at the forefront of the struggle. Now she began to assume the mantle of Nelson Mandela's political heir, and to tread the path which led to her becoming known as 'Mother of the Nation'.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a great deal of attention from the South African police force. Her home was frequently searched, she was frequently questioned and prosecuted for minor transgressions against the apartheid laws.

The low point of this period came when Mrs Mandela was arrested in 1969 under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and imprisoned in solitary confinement for 17 months. This was followed by periods of banning and house arrest, and short spells in jail on minor charges.

In 1976, a student uprising in Soweto was put down by force, leaving hundreds of people dead. Winnie was banished from Soweto to Brandfort in the Orange Free State, an area where she knew no-one and did not even speak the local dialect.

It was at this time that Winnie Mandela became well known in the West. She organised local clinics, campaigned actively for equal rights and was promoted by the ANC as a symbol of its struggle against apartheid.

In 1985, she defied her banning order by returning to Soweto after her home in Brandfort was firebombed. After being arrested for breaking the order, the government relented and allowed her to stay.

[ image: A 'necklacing' victim]
A 'necklacing' victim
The following five years were increasingly controversial. In 1986 she made a speech in which she talked about achieving liberation from apartheid by using "necklaces" - a reference to the brutal murder of suspected collaborators by putting tyres round their necks and setting them alight. There was also the matter of an opulent 125,000 house built in one of the poorest areas in the country.

The most serious allegations, however, stemmed from the activities of her personal bodyguards, the so-called Mandela United Football Club. Reports of their brutality were commonplace in Soweto and her house was attacked in 1988 by local people who had had enough.

Mrs Mandela refused to curb the team's activities, however, and the following year came the decisive incident. A 14-year-old activist, Stompei Seipei Moketsi, was kidnapped by her guards and later found murdered. The ANC leadership declared that she was out of control but Nelson Mandela, in jail and in ill-health, refused to repudiate her.

[ image: By her husband's side]
By her husband's side
In February 1990, Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison and Winnie walked by his side as the world watched his first steps of freedom for nearly 30 years. Initially, the couple appeared to have resolved any problems though Nelson refused to move into his wife's Soweto mansion.

Gradually, however, relations between them cooled and in 1991 Winnie Mandela was charged with the assault and kidnapping of Stompei. Initially convicted and given six years in jail, Mrs Mandela appealed and had the sentence reduced to a fine.

The trial was notable for witnesses who failed to appear or whose testimony contradicted statements which they had given the police. One of the key planks of her defence was an alibi that she was being driven elsewhere at the time of the kidnap - after the trial the driver denied that the journey had taken place.

In 1992 Nelson Mandela tired of his wife's political and personal excesses and announced that he and Winnie were to separate. They eventually divorced in 1996 on the grounds of her adultery.

Mrs Mandela, or Mrs Madikizela-Mandela as she became known after her divorce, was now extremely unwelcome at the top table of the now-governing African National Congress. She retained, however, a huge following among the rank and file by appealing to the radicals and to those who felt that progress towards equality was still too slow.

For example, in 1993 she was suspended from the ANC Women's League for disloyalty but bounced back by winning election as its president - the following year 11 members of the ANCWL resigned in protest at her dictatorial behaviour.

Also in 1994, she polled so well in the elections which saw Nelson made president that she not only became an MP but won the post of Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. Later that year she was elected to the ANC's national executive committee.

In 1995, however, she made herself unpopular with the government by accusing it of not doing enough to combat racism. After widespread allegations of misappropriating government funds, she was dismissed from her ministerial post by her former husband.

The careers of most politicians would have been finished long ago with such a record, but not Mrs Madikezela-Mandela's. Earlier this year she won a second term as president of the Women's League and even now is defying the ANC leadership by challenging its preferred candidate for the deputy presidency of the party.

Victory in that poll would in theory put her in a strong position to run for high office some time in the future. But given the allegations made at the Truth Commission and opposition from within the ANC, that would mean a political comeback on a scale unprecedented even in Winnie Mandela's own career.

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