Reconciliation, maybe. But not the truth

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The Independent Online
Never had truth and reconciliation in South Africa seemed so irreconcilable. Mary Braid watched a sickening spectacle unfold yesterday at the end of the hearings into Winnie Mandela's alleged involvement in an array of murders and assaults.

The nine-day hearing was stuffed with grotesque moments, but yesterday's were the worst. Taking the stand after eight days of damning testimony against her, Winnie Mandela held up well at first. Her strategy was blanket denial, shifting all the blame to the media and her political opponents.

Now she seemed flustered as she struggled to maintain her alibi for the day the 14-year-old activist Stompei Seipei Moeketsi, who later died, was severely assaulted in her home.

It was one of the few real challenges to a woman with many questions to answer from many families. But Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body charged with exposing the horrors of the apartheid era, kept pressing the lawyer challenging Mrs Mandela, to wind up.

Suddenly a premature finale materialised, as if from nowhere. While the cross-examination by lawyers acting for Mrs Mandela's alleged victims was still under way, the archbishop invited all those who claimed to have suffered at the hands of Mrs Mandela and her vigilantes, the Mandela United Football Club, to come forward.

Suddenly Joyce Sepei, Stompie's mother, was embracing Mrs Mandela, the woman already convicted of taking part in the kidnap of her son, and who this week was also accused by several witnesses of brutally assaulting him before his death.

The cameras clicked as the archbishop gave a sermon about the healing of a nation. It was as if the commission had realised Mrs Mandela would not bend. It offered sham reconciliation in the absence of truth or even a glimmer of contrition.

Not everyone was fooled. A farce was the way some families, anticipating events, described the hearings half an hour earlier, when they stormed out the hall. "She's the woman who murdered our children," screamed Caroline Sono outside the hearing. She remembers Mrs Mandela calling her son "a dog" just before his disappearance in 1988. Mrs Sono said the TRC hearing had amounted to nothing. "Nothing has been done. There's no justice in this land."

Mrs Mandela was implicated in the disappearance of Lolo this week. Mrs Sono's husband, Nicodemus, testified that Mrs Mandela and members of the football club had brought Sono's battered body to his home in the back of a van in November 1988. He claimed he begged for Lolo's life but Mrs Mandela had said he had sold out and the movement would decide what to do with him. That was the last time Lolo was seen alive.

On Wednesday Jerry Richardson, former coach of the football team, now serving life for Stompie's murder, said he had killed Lolo and his friend Siboniso Tshabalala on Mrs Mandela's orders.

Yesterday Mrs Mandela denied ordering anyone's death. Every charge was "ludicrous", or "lunacy". And just as witnesses mysteriously disappeared before the trial for Stompie's kidnapping, assault and murder, so witnesses failed to show this week.

Michael Seakamela had been expected to tell the commission that he had driven Mrs Mandela and the injured Lolo to Lolo's home. The TRC warned Mrs Mandela about intimidating witnesses. But all that was forgotten yesterday when Mrs Mandela finally finished being cross-examined. A tearful Archbishop Tutu begged Mrs Mandela just to admit that things had gone wrong and say sorry. She did not have to specify what those "things" were. She duly obliged.

What followed was a bizarre mixture of pantomine and pure Hollywood. There were flowers for the diva as she was welcomed back with emotion into the fold. Mrs Mandela embraced everyone.

If proof were needed that South Africa had gone mad it was the sight of Jerry Richardson, her mentally disturbed former henchman, handing out greetings cards to everyone he could find. And all this for a woman who was for eight days portrayed as a violent despot who orchestrated a reign of terror in Soweto through the football club thugs she housed at the back of her home. All this for the woman who denied every accusation levelled against her and rubbished almost every witness.

At the beginning of these hearings, Mrs Mandela was urged by Peter Storey, a bishop in South Africa's Methodist Church, to unburden herself of the sins of the past. It is through these quasi-religious acts of confession that South Africa is supposed to heal itself and go forward. But yesterday was simply a final show of defiance by Mrs Mandela who had refused to seek amnesty from the Commission in spite of the advice of the African National Congress.

Either Mrs Mandela lied to her back teeth or she is the victim of an elaborate political conspiracy. In two weeks Mrs Mandela will contest the deputy leadership of the ANC, a post that would put her within striking distance of the presidency. That must chill the heart of men like Mr Cachalia.