Bank threatens to foreclose on Winnie's home

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The Independent Online
Winnie Mandela, the estranged wife of South Africa's President, Nelson Mandela, and the country's favourite political sideshow, is now living - literally - at the centre of a controversy: her modest mansion a few blocks away from the shacks of Soweto.

The two-storey house - a place of pilgrimage for the busloads of tourists who daily visit Johannesburg's most famous township - has been attached by her bank over mortgage arrears. According to lawyers for Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (Absa), Mrs Mandela has not made her mortgage repayments for "a long time" and the bank started foreclosure proceedings.

"A warrant of attachment against the the property was issued and the property was attached by the sheriff of the court last month," said Richard Nesbit, who represents Absa. "Right now, the bank is in a position to sell the house by public auction if it so wishes. We are awaiting instructions from the bank," he added.

Mrs Mandela can still make arrangements to pay the 505,260 rand (pounds 90,000) outstanding, but has so far ignored bank pleas to do so. Sources at Absa said the banking group was reluctant to foreclose on the mansion because it feared a political and public relations disaster. "The possibility of having to toss Mrs Mandela out of her home is not exactly the kind of positive image the bank wants to project," one source said.

But by yesterday it was not just the house which was in danger of going on the auction block, but everything inside as well. Mrs Mandela had until close of business yesterday to pay R75,000 to an air charter company which successfully sued her this week for failing to pay for a plane she hired in 1993. If she missed the deadline, the court could attach any of her possessions not already claimed by Absa.

The thought of losing the house that Mrs Mandela built for her husband's homecoming after 27 years in prison was more than some could bear. Yesterday, a group of German tourists outside the Mandela mansion was told by their tour guide how the house had been paid for by a famous movie star and President Bill Clinton. All reports of Mrs Mandela's financial woes, the guide said, were simply untrue.

Some former associates of Mrs Mandela suggested that her failure to pay for the house was in some way linked to her fight against the divorce proceedings started by her husband. In court documents Mrs Mandela denied her marriage had broken down irretrievably, and said that with proper counselling there were prospects for reconciliation. On the other hand, if the President wanted to go ahead with the divorce, she wanted half his assets.

Several months ago police raided Mrs Mandela's home and offices to investigate allegations that her Co-ordinated Anti-Poverty Programme (Capp) was linked to fraudulent business deals. Capp figured again prominently in this week's lawsuit by the Foster Webb Air charter company. Mrs Mandela's lawyers had argued in the Rand Supreme Court on Wednesday that she had hired a plane from the company to facilitate a diamond deal in Angola between the Angolan President, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, and a local businessman, Ben du Preez. Witnesses said Capp stood to earn commission on the deal, undermining her defence. Mr du Preez told the court that Mrs Mandela wanted instant riches through the deal. It fell through because when Mr du Preez arrived in the Angolan capital, Luanda, Mr dos Santos said he knew nothing about it.

Mrs Mandela failed to appear several times when it was her turn to give evidence. On the final day of the hearing, she left for a trip to the US.