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Mandela says she failed Stompie

WINNIE MANDELA drew heat from opposition MPs yesterday following a speech to parliament in which, for the first time, she sought to make amends for her part in the kidnapping and assault five years ago of 'Stompie' Moeketsi Seipei, a 14-year-old activist who was later murdered by her chief bodyguard.

Mrs Mandela used the occasion provided by South Africa's National Women's Day, on Tuesday, to dedicate her maiden speech to the Stompie affair. 'My deepest regret,' she said, 'is that I failed Stompie - that I was unable to protect him from the anarchy of those times and he was taken from my house and killed, adding his life to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who fell victim to the terror of intolerance and the injustice of the kangaroo courts.'

That was as far as the apology went. Mrs Mandela, the Deputy Minister of Culture, then went on the offensive: 'I lived in the terror of those times and was repeatedly burnt by its fires. I did not flinch . . . And there are men in this gathering who, in the calm safety of their Houghtons (a reference to a privileged Johannesburg suburb) literally fiddled and mounted the steps of power while our townships burnt, who today dare to question my membership in this august House. I say to them, examine your lives and compare it with mine and then tell me, in all sincerity, who is more fit for this House?'

She suggested that she had been wrongly convicted of the kidnapping and assault of Stompie and three other young men in 1991. She said she had been 'criminalised' by an 'apartheid court' - 'a court which studiedly ignored the black perspective, black culture, black values and judged everyone by white standards, which it foisted upon us as God-given and universal'.

Mrs Mandela's speech was greeted by sustained applause by the African National Congress backbenchers but with derision by MPs of F W de Klerk's National Party (NP) and the liberal Democratic Party (DP). For the NP, Marthinus van Schalkwyk said: 'It is unprecedented to use the privilege of parliament to attack the courts, to draw their credibility into question and to further her own cause.'