JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie expressed “surprise and shock” that prosecutors are considering charges against her following the exhumation of bodies believed to belong to two young activists last seen at her home 24 years ago.
In a statement from her lawyer dated Saturday and received Sunday, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said it is “difficult to legally imagine how and what new evidence is contemplated” given the many diverse accounts presented more than 10 years ago to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.Forensic scientists last week exhumed two skeletons with multiple stab wounds that they believe belong to Lolo Sono, 21, and Siboniso Shabalala, 19, who reportedly had gone to Madikizela-Mandela’s home to get help to leave the country to become freedom fighters. Forensic pathologists had stumbled on mortuary documents that led to the bodies, buried in a pauper’s grave, and the bodies now are being tested for DNA.
According to evidence to the commission by her bodyguard Jerry Richardson, Madikizela-Mandela accused the two young men of being spies for the apartheid regime and ordered him to kill them. He said he and a colleague stabbed them to death.
Madikizela-Mandela’s statement pointed out that the commission found no evidence of any such order and found only that she was “negligent in that she failed to institute inquiries into the deaths of the two cadres.”
The statement does not refer to the commission’s finding that Madikizela-Mandela was responsible for the disappearances of Sono and Shabalala.
Nothing was done at the time to pursue the allegations.
But last week, the Hawks police crime investigation unit said it has opened two new murder cases, acting on prosecutors’ information that they believed they have discovered the men’s bodies.
Madikizela-Mandela’s statement indicated she felt victimized by suggestions she could be charged in the murders. She pointed to the many different versions of the killings given to the police and the truth commission by Richardson, a friend with whom she has fallen out, and another man who was a member of the notorious Mandela United Football Team. The team acted as her bodyguards in the 1980s but turned into a gang of thugs that terrorized the Soweto black township where she lived, leading residents to set her home there ablaze in 1989.
Her bodyguards were accused of the killings of at least 18 boys and men she allegedly accused of being spies acting against the liberation movement, most infamously the 14-year-old James “Stompie” Seipei Moeketsi, who was beaten and then had his throat slit.
In a 1991 trial, Madikizela-Mandela denied all knowledge of that killing. She was sentenced to a six-year jail term in his kidnapping and assault, which on appeal was reduced to a fine and suspended jail term for acting as an accomplice in the kidnapping.
Her statement refers to the merciless harassment she was subjected to by apartheid police. Her home was repeatedly raided by apartheid police, she was interrogated, arrested, banned and for several years banished to a town where neighbors were forbidden to speak to her. She also has said she was tortured while held in solitary confinement for more than a year.
She spent only three years together with her then husband, Nelson Mandela, before he was incarcerated for 27 years. In that time she became a hero in her own right of the struggle for black rule.
Madikizela-Mandela’s statement notes that three witnesses at the commission already have died — her former friend turned enemy Xoliswa Falati, bodyguard Richardson who was sentenced to life imprisonment for several killings and died in jail, and Sono’s father Nicodemus Sono, who died a few months ago.
“The father of Lolo Sono and unfortunately many others have also since passed, memorides fade with time,” her statement said. “It is difficult to legally imagine how and what new evidence is contemplated, if the TRC confronted with so much diverse testimony, some of which possibly inadmissible in the courts, courts could come to a finding different to that of the TRC.”
At the truth commission, Nicodemus Sono described how Madikizela-Mandela had come to his home in November 1988 with his son in a car, held at gunpoint and his face bruised from beatings. Sono said she had demanded photographs and documents, telling the father that his son was a spy for the apartheid police.
Sono said he had begged her to give him back his son. But he said she had driven away saying “the movement” would decide what to do with him.