I didn't act to save Winnie, says Mandela

South Africa's president denies asking Kaunda to detain key witness in Stompie murder case
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The Independent Online
President Nelson Mandela has denied that he arranged the disappearance of a key witness in the 1991 trial of his former wife Winnie for the kidnap of murdered teenage activist Stompie Seipei Moeketsi.

As the African National Congress struggles to contain claims that Mrs Mandela murdered activists during her notorious bodyguards' reign of terror in Soweto in the late 1980s, President Mandela dismissed comments by former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda in a new book that the president asked him to detain the witness Katiza Cebekhulu in a Lusaka prison. Mr Cebekhulu disappeared on the eve of Mrs Mandela's trial.

In the book, Katiza's Journey. Beneath the Surface of South Africa's Shame, by British journalist Fred Bridgland, Mr Cebekhulu - now in hiding in Britain - claims that Mrs Mandela, found guilty in 1992 of kidnapping Stompie, 14, actually killed the boy.

Mr Cebekhulu, a former member of Mrs Mandela's bodyguards - the Mandela United Football Club - claims he saw Mrs Mandela stab Stompie after accusing him of being a police informer. Stompie was found in a ditch in 1989 with his throat cut. Jerry Richardson, the "captain" of Mrs Mandela's club, was later jailed for the boy's murder.

In a BBC documentary, based on the book and screened in South Africa and Britain on Tuesday, two other Soweto families accused the "Mother of the Nation" of being involved in the disappearance or deaths of children. She was also implicated in the death of a Soweto doctor, Abu Baker Asvat.

While many in the ANC leadership regard Mrs Mandela as an embarrassment, her huge grassroots popularity called for a public show of solidarity yesterday. Mrs Mandela has risen from the ashes of her divorce and kidnap conviction.

Currently president of the ANC Women's League, she is a frontrunner to become the party's new deputy president, when her former husband gives up leadership of the party in December. The ANC yesterday asked for a special meeting with Dumisa Ntsebeza, chief investigator with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the independent body charged with exposing the truth about South Africa's apartheid past.

Mr Cebekhulu has applied to the TRC for amnesty. The commission can grant indemnity to those who committed politically motivated crimes in return for full confessions. The TRC has also subpoenaed Mrs Mandela to appear at a private hearing later this month to answer questions about the old club.

Yesterday Alex Boraine, TRC deputy chairman, said Mr Cebekhulu - who claims to fear for his life and is currently under the wing of the former MP Emma Nicholson - might be allowed to give his evidence at a special overseas hearing of the commission.

The pressure on Mrs Mandela has been mounting for months. Former associates have alleged from prison that they were contracted by Mrs Mandela to kill Dr Asvat.

On Tuesday, just hours before the documentary was screened, Mrs Mandela gave a rare press conference to deny the allegations. While the documentary painted a portrait of a cruel, violent and unstable woman, Mrs Mandela casts herself as victim. While Bridgland claims the ANC and National Party covered Winnie's murderous tracks to keep the fragile process of political transition on track, Mrs Mandela claims the police tortured prisoners to frame her.

On Tuesday she said she had watched in "painful silence" as her character and contribution to South Africa's democracy was butchered in the media. "I have seen confused panic in my grandchildren's tearful eyes, attempting to work out whether I am the demon I am portrayed."

Mrs Mandela has shunned the TRC's invitation to testify in private, andis insisting on a public hearing. "I intend to bare my soul to the scrutiny of my country," she said."I beg that these issues be tested by the vigilance of the public."