LAST NIGHT

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Indy Lifestyle Online
During the battle against apartheid, Winnie Mandela was often depicted as a black Penelope - a de-facto widow loyally keeping faith with her husband as he pursued the odyssey of democratic justice. The burden of Tuesday night's Inside Story Special (BBC1) was that the mythic archetype was quite wrong - Winnie was actually a black Lady Macbeth, corrupted by power and ambition into staining her own hands with blood. All that is missing is any sign of remorse.

Much of the film was taken up with the testimony of Katiza Cebekhulu, an ex-member of the Mandela United Football Club, who claims to have seen Winnie beating and then stabbing Stompie Mokhetsie, a 14-year-old activist whose dead body was found on waste-ground after a brutal interrogation at Mrs Mandela's home. Winnie has already been found guilty of participation in his kidnapping, but Cebekhulu's vivid account places the murder weapon in her hands. What's more, Fred Bridgland's report cast serious doubt on the alibi which had saved Winnie from a more serious charge. Though she claimed to be hundreds of miles away in Brandfort on the day of Stompie's death, the record card of a local doctor, to whom beaten boys had been taken for treatment, confirmed Cebekhulu's story that she had driven him to the Soweto clinic that day. Dr Asvat, an ANC supporter, had remonstrated with Winnie over the boys she brought in, insisting that they should be taken to hospital. She refused, and some time later he was shot dead. According to Cebekhulu, he had been ordered by Winnie to show two Zulus where Dr Asvat lived shortly before the killing. There was much more besides - a plot to smear the local priest, who had aroused Winnie's jealousy, the discovery of candid photos of her in bed with her lover, the disappearance of another boy, accused of being an informer and last seen by his parents in Winnie's car.

Cebekhulu's account raised some questions - was it really just a coincidence that this homeless man, wandering through Soweto at night, had been taken into Mandela's home? Why on earth had the South African police returned him to Winnie's home after he had jumped bail, aware that his own knowledge put him in considerable danger? Why, for that matter, had he been searching through Winnie's drawers, when he stumbled across those incriminating photographs? The paranoia about police spies, which lead to so many atrocities and killings, can't have been entirely groundless at the time - apartheid South Africa could probably match East Germany for the level of its procured betrayal. But uncertainties about his background couldn't outweigh the programme's slow accumulation of corroborating details - which combined to suggest that Winnie had become addicted to the conscienceless exercise of power.

Cebekhulu testified at one point to the mesmerising effect of Winnie's gaze. You were offered an eerily similar passage in the first episode of The Nazis (BBC2) - a more extended consideration of the psychopathy of power. An old man recalled the effect of Hitler's searching look with obvious emotion: "I can only say that I am glad that I saw Hitler's most beautiful side... I'm sure there must have been dark sides, but I saw his wonderful side and nobody can take that away from me." The presence of such undefensive candour is one of the striking features of Laurence Rees's series, which conveys with disturbing authenticity the unapologetic anti-Semitism of the time. The other is its judicious blend of large-scale narrative and scholarly detail - for those who like to think that the explanation for Hitler's rise lies in his own baleful charisma, the producers included the specific voting figures for a small rural town which Hitler never visited and which had no local party organisation - they went up some twentyfold in just a few years, evidence of the intense polarisation of politics that took place during the economic slump. If you feared communism, then you were liable to vote Nazi, whatever your misgivings. By diminishing the part evil genius played in these events, and amplifying the role of ordinary citizens and ordinary sins, the series amply justifies its subtitle - "A Warning from History".

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