Amnesia spreads among Mandela witnesses

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Archbishop Tutu has taken a tough line with some witnesses at the Johannesburg hearings into Winnie Mandela's alleged atrocities. But Mary Braid says he failed yesterday to press top ANC officials in the same way to reveal all they know.

The archbishop rebuked a lawyer at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings for pressing Nthato Motlana, Mrs Mandela's former doctor and now one of South Africa's leading businessmen, about his poor memory of the 1989 kidnapping of the teenage activist Stompie Seipei Moeketsi and three older youths.

Dr Motlana, called in by a desperate community to persuade Mrs Mandela to release the youths, said he could not remember the conversation he later had with her.

Although there had been panic about the youngsters' safety, he claimed he had not asked to see them.

Neither did he remember them having any injuries when the three youths - minus Stompie, who was later found with his throat slit - were finally handed over to him after days of beatings.

Tony Richard, the lawyer representing Gerry Richardson, the coach of the Mandela United Football Club, who was jailed for Stompie's murder, requested it be recorded that a senior ANC MP, Aubrey Mokoena, was "an evasive and obstructive witness". Mr Mokoena was a former member of the Mandela Crisis Committee, which had tried to negotiate the release of the youths.

There were sniggers in the hall when Mr Mokoena suggested that Mrs Mandela might not have been aware of the criminal behaviour of the football club, which had terrorised Soweto. "She was overcome by altruism," he said. "She couldn't see the danger that was hiding behind that which she was trying to protect."

Mr Mokoena appeared to have forgotten the resolutions passed by the Crisis Committee after the kidnapping of Stompie. They instructed organisations to refuse Mrs Mandela a platform and warned her to dismantle the club "lest the community dismantle the club for her."

What prevented some witnesses from telling all was a matter for speculation. Some believe it is fear of Mrs Mandela, who, if she becomes ANC deputy president next month, will wield enormous power.

Others said ANC members were trying to play down the fact that damage limitation had been their prime concern after Stompie's abduction. Perhaps it was just old-fashioned ANC solidarity, a hard habit to break even when your comrade has been implicated in at least six murders and many more assaults.

The ANC's rather shameful day was brought to a dramatic close when Azhar Cachalia, former leading light in the liberation movement, took Mrs Mandela apart.

He strongly urged the commission to recommend that charges be brought against her. The hall burst into applause.

The pressure is piling up on the "Mother of the Nation". Yesterday questions from the lawyer for the family of Dr Abu-Baker Asvat, who was murdered after examining Stompie's body, suggested that the murder case may be reopened.

Two men were jailed for the doctor's killing. They claimed their motive was robbery, but Mrs Mandela has been linked to the murder of a man who many people believe knew too much.

Now, the killers may be about to change their story.