Alive, well - and still determined to nail Winnie

Katiza Cebekhulu has come a long way since he first claimed he saw Mrs Mandela kill Stompie Seipei. John Carlin caught up with him in London
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Katiza Cebekhulu got off lightly. He endured a savage beating, he was kidnapped, he spent two years in a Zambian jail at the behest and pleasure of the African National Congress, an organisation whose raison d'etre has always been to battle for the rights of impoverished, illiterate, desperate black South Africans just like him.

But Katiza is alive, which is more than can be said for Stompie Seipei, Lolo Sono, Maxwell Madondo, Finky Msomi and a host of other largely forgotten souls who had the misfortune to spin into the demented world Winnie Mandela inhabited in pre-liberation, late Eighties Soweto.

He is alive and well - better than he ever has been. Living in the London flat of the life peer and former MP Emma Nicholson, he is studying English at a school in London's Victoria and taking private classes to learn how to write, having only recently - aged 27 - learnt how to read.

Two weeks ago he took a break between classes to fly home to South Africa and testify against Mrs Mandela at Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A member of Mrs Mandela's so-called football club for two years, he said he saw her stab the boy Stompie to death in the jacuzzi of her Soweto home in December 1988.

Katiza's testimony did not come as a surprise. Everyone following the Winnie Affair was aware that Fred Bridgland, a British journalist with many years' experience in Africa, had included it all in his latest book Katiza's Journey. Those who believed before that Winnie was a murderer believed Katiza; those who did not chose not to. As for Stompie's mother, Katiza evidently did not make much of an impression on her. On Thursday, after Mrs Mandela told the commission that she was totally innocent, Mrs Seipei gave her a reconciliatory hug.

That same morning I met Katiza in London. I had last met him seven years ago, almost to the day, at my office in Johannesburg. Time has improved him. I would not have bet a great deal of money that first time on him making it to Christmas. He was on the run from Winnie's boys, sleeping rough in the streets of Soweto and Johannesburg, because he knew too many secrets and was not toeing the football club line. The word was that he would be a key prosecution witness in Mrs Mandela's trial, which began two months later, in February 1991, and ended with a conviction on charges of assaulting and kidnapping Stompie and three other young men. As it happened he had his teeth punched out by Winnie's boys and his face drenched in boiling water as the prelude to being whisked out of South Africa to Zambia by the ANC three days before the trial began. Baroness Nicholson, alerted to Katiza's plight by Bridgland, sprung him free from his Lusaka jail with the consent of the Zambian authorities in December 1993. After lengthy stays in Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea, he fetched up at his protector's home in July this year.

At that first meeting in Johannesburg he spoke only his native Zulu and it was through a translator that I heard him tell me how Mrs Mandela had forced him to join in the beatings of Stompie and the other boys, how he had seen Mrs Mandela finish Stompie off with a sharp, shiny object. It was a great newspaper story but lacking corroborating evidence then, as the Truth Commission does now, would have meant that to publish would have been legal suicide.

Mrs Mandela's circle had been putting about at the time that he was mad but the impish ragamuffin who sat before me in broken shoes and torn, grimy T-shirt was sharp-witted, vivid in his recollection of how "mummy" whipped Stompie so hard her sjambok snapped; how she got him to join in the beatings on pain of being beaten himself.

I remember his big, wide eyes and thinking that he looked wild with fear but, more than that, rashly determined to be vindicated as a character of sound mind possessed of the terrible truth about Winnie.

He looked and sounded much the same when we met last week at a Burger King across the road from Victoria Station. Except that now, evidently availed of running water and soap, he was sporting a green suede jacket, a smart sweater and a clean pair of jeans.

But his eyes were no less bright and his resolve no less fierce to expose Mrs Mandela as the fiend he believes her to be. "Winnie killed," he said. "Richardson is lying ... Richardson did not kill Stompie. Winnie did."

Jerry Richardson was the football club "coach", Mrs Mandela's chief bodyguard. He was convicted eight years ago of murdering Stompie. In his trial he exonerated Mrs Mandela from all blame. At the Truth Commission last week he said that he had indeed killed Stompie, but on Mrs Mandela's instructions.

It seems very odd that Richardson should be lying. But then logic was the first casualty at the Commission hearings on Mrs Mandela and truth never had a chance. "But how can the ANC allow her to campaign for a big political job like deputy president? How is that possible?" Katiza asked.

He might also have asked why senior figures in the ANC who testified at the hearings were so transparently evasive, so perplexingly unwilling to reveal everything they knew about the woman they once called "the Mother of the Nation"? For, after all, it is no secret that the ANC hierarchy are in dread of the prospect that Mrs Mandela could one day be a heartbeat away from the South African presidency.

The Winnie Affair, all indicates, will remain a mystery wrapped up in an enigma for a long time to come and Katiza, if he is to construct some semblance of a contented life, might be advised to put the whole sordid business behind him. He knows it too.

"My reading is food but now I want to learn to write and get work so I can live a normal life. But I cannot go back to South Africa. It will always be too dangerous. My hope is to have a home in Britain."

He wants to escape his dependence on Baroness Nicholson and live self- sufficiently on his own. He would also like to repay everything she has spent on him.

As for Mrs Mandela, she is unlikely to be paying anybody anything. And now it remains to be seen whether she will be sticking the knife, as it were, into Katiza's wound by pulling off yet another in her long line of amazing political resurrections. Before the Truth Commission sat to hear her detractors she enjoyed extraordinarily high popular support. "I understand why it is like this," Katiza said. "Winnie Mandela is popular because in South Africa they are buying the name, not the person. The name, not the person."

Katiza has endured what he has because he has striven to reveal the face behind the Winnie Mandela mask. His success cannot be measured in terms of the punishment he feels she deserves, but by whether the accumulated testimony to which he bravely contributed at the Truth Commission will lead to the sea-change in South African perceptions necessary for her political downfall. Only then will Katiza enjoy the rest he deserves.