Star witness refuses to damn Winnie

Albertina Sisulu was billed as the witness with the key to Winnie Mandela's downfall. Mary Braid in Johannesburg says her contribution was stunning, but not in the way expected.

Hanif Vally, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigator, seemed completely flabbergasted. "I wasn't expecting this," he said, fumbling for his next question. Neither - with perhaps a few notable exceptions - was anyone else.

Yesterday was the sixth day of hearings into allegations that Mrs Mandela and her notorious Mandela United Football Club committed at least six murders and an array of assaults in the late 1980s.

The evidence has piled up to support the theory that Mrs Mandela murdered Soweto doctor Abu-Baker Asvat in January 1989 because he knew too much about her alleged involvement in the murder of a 14-year-old activist, Stompie Seipei Moeketsi, four weeks previously.

But Mrs Sisulu yesterday knocked a hole in that one. She completely withdrew the information that damned Mrs Mandela, which she recently provided for the BBC documentary Katiza's Journey.

Mrs Sisulu, the nurse in Dr Asvat's surgery, yesterday denied that the writing on a crucial patient record card was hers. If verified, the card, belonging to Katiza Cebekulu - the so-called missing witness in the Winnie scandal - would have completely undermined Mrs Mandela's alibi in the Stompie case.

There was more disappointment for Dr Asvat's family and Stompie Seipei's mother, Joyce, who have put their faith in the TRC. Mrs Sisulu said she had no knowledge of a "volcanic row" alleged to have erupted between Mrs Mandela and Dr Asvat hours before his murder.

Mrs Sisulu gave an emotional account of how she heard two shots and Dr Asvat's scream before finding him lying in his consulting room bleeding from his chest and gasping for breath. Mrs Sisulu claimed she and the doctor were like mother and son. But she said that if he had trouble with Mrs Mandela he never told her.

Like other ANC figures who have testified, Mrs Sisulu seemed evasive. She was unable to explain the discrepancy between what she told the BBC and her evidence yesterday.

TRC Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza was the only one with the courage to take on an icon. He suggested Mrs Sisulu, like other ANC members, was hedging on anything that would implicate Mrs Mandela.

"Is it because the Mandela and Sisulu families have come along way together...?" he asked, referring to her husband Walter's lifelong journey with President Nelson Mandela, and her own friendship, long ago soured, with Mrs Mandela. "Is it because you wouldn't like to be the one identified in South African history to speak about your comrade ... as being involved in the death of Dr Asvat?"

Mr Ntsebeza was rewarded with tears and angry indignation. Mrs Sisulu reeled off her long years of sacrifice for the movement. "I am not here to tell lies," she said bitterly. Even Mr Ntsebeza had not the stomach to continue.

Yesterday's hearing was marred by many allegations - from Commission investigators and those called to testify witnesses - that Mrs Mandela was intimidating witnesses. TRC investigators have been told by potential witnesses that they have been visited by "Mama" or called to her Soweto home. One of those witnesses was last night proving "difficult to locate."

At the end of yesterday's hearing few would have hazarded a guess as to the behind-the-scenes political machinations. If the ANC leadership is hanging Mrs Mandela out to dry - it opposes her standing for deputy leadership of the party later this month - why did the ANC's Mathews Phosa, the first senior member to show support, turn up yesterday?

More galling still is the question why did he choose to kiss Mrs Mandela immediately after a tearful witness claimed Mrs Mandela had ordered Dr Asvat's murder. The Asvat family were still weeping when the embrace took place.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor