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Spies reveal Pretoria's dirty war on Winnie

Winnie Mandela was portrayed as the victim of a dirty propaganda war at yesterday's Truth and Reconciliation hearing. Mary Braid in Johannesburg says others accused her of being a police informer

Two former spies told the commission that British and American agents secretly helped the apartheid regime to spread rumours that Mrs Mandela was a child-killer, an alcoholic and a drug-user.

South African agents, it was claimed, placed this disinformation about Mrs Mandela in British newspapers.

Paul Erasmus, one of the South African agents, said members of the British Conservative Party's Monday Club were "principal agents" involved in spreading propaganda. His fellow operative, John Louis McPherson, claimed he had been given a list of friendly journalists.

But Azhar Cachalia, the chief ANC appointee in the Department for Safety and Security, said that during the late 1980s - when the murders and violent attacks Mrs Mandela is implicated in, including the killing of Stompie Seipei Moeketsi, 14, took place - many suspected she was a police spy.

"Just about everyone seemed to be aware that there were guerrillas and arms in the Mandela home," said Mr Cachalia, who was part of the leadership of the United Democratic Front, which publicly distanced itself from Mrs Mandela in 1989. He said it was difficult to understand why the police did not raid her home at the height of the state of emergency. "Did they want to use what was happening around her home to discredit our president [Nelson Mandela] when he was released," he mused, shrugging his shoulders. "There were a million agendas."

A murky picture was further confused by an admission from the Police Commissioner, George Fivaz, that Jerry Richardson, former coach of the "Mandela Football Club" and now serving life for Stompie's murder, was a police spy. He was on the police payroll only two years ago. Mr Fivaz claimed he had provided information about other cases.

Richardson attended this week's hearings wearing the colours of the team that rarely took to the pitch but terrorised Soweto. Mr Cachalia said he thought Mrs Mandela was involved in the murder of Dr Abu Baker Asvat a few weeks after Stompie's murder.

The doctor is believed to have seen Stompie after he was beaten for three days at Mrs Mandela's home. Mr Cachalia said that because Mrs Mandela and the doctor had been close friends he had been unable to contemplate the possibility of her ordering the murder.

Mr Cachalia launched an emotional appeal to Mrs Mandela after a commissioner asked if his testimony was shaped by a "political agenda". The commissioner suggested he might be part of an Indian cabal within the ANC, which is hostile to "Africanists`" such as Mrs Mandela. Mr Cachalia said: "Part of me wants to go up and hug you and say `Let us go away from all this' ... But another part of me says we cannot go forward unless there is accountability."