Court ends Mandela marriage saga

Winnie to fight for 'pounds 15m' estate

After 38 years of love, political struggle, prison, liberation, personal disillusionment and finally betrayal, the marriage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela ended yesterday in a Johannesburg courtroom.

Judge Frikkie Eloff closed the chapter on the relationship that carried Mr Mandela through 27 years in prison. His ruling came just one day after the 77-year-old South African President paraded before the whole world his personal pain over his estranged wife's infidelity and their lack of intimacy.

The judge told a courtroom crowded with journalists and a handful of relatives: "The position appears to be clear that on the evidence, that was not challenged, the plaintiff is entitled to a divorce. His claim is unanswerable and he is entitled to the relief he seeks."

The ruling was greeted with anger by Winnie, who stormed out of the courtroom, and with visible relief by Mr Mandela, who smiled and shook his lawyer's hand. But there was a sense of deep sadness among many others.

"We wanted to have a kind of fairy-tale ending," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "The couple have suffered so much and now at the pinnacle of their victory, for this dissolution to happen, it's awful for them, but it's also awful for the country. We all seem to be voyeurs peeping into a bedroom where a husband and wife are falling out."

Unlike Monday's hearing, when Mr Mandela talked about his loneliness during the two years he spent with his wife following his release from prison, and of the pain he felt on learning of her affair with a young lawyer in the African national Congress, yesterday's proceedings were timid. But they were not without drama.

In the midst of the hearing, Winnie suddenly and unexpectedly sacked her lawyer, Ismail Semenya. He had earlier questioned Mr Mandela, who begged not to be forced to to disclose any more of the painful details concerning his relationship with his estranged wife.

"I appeal to you not to put any questions to me which may compel me to dent the image of the defendant and bring a great deal of pain to our children and grandchildren," he said.

The remaining battle, which starts today in the same courtroom, is about a financial settlement. However, there is also the question of the use of what may be the President's greatest asset of all - the name of Mandela.

Winnie is claiming that she is entitled to half of the President's estate, which has been estimated by some South African newspapers at pounds 15m. Possibly of even greater importance is her claim to the Mandela name, which she now uses appended after her maiden name of Madikizela.

Many observers believe she will run in the presidential election in 1999, when Mr Mandela has said he will step down.

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