Mandelas set for bitter divorce case

ROBERT BLOCK

Johannesburg

In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela wrote extensively about falling in love with his now estranged wife, Winnie. Although smitten by the beautiful young social worker, he said he knew their life together would be difficult. "I never promised her gold and diamonds and I was never able to give them to her," he recalled. As of today, that last bit might change.

Barring an eleventh-hour out-of-court settlement, lawyers for Mr Mandela and Winnie are this morning expected to begin what promises to be a long and bitter divorce case that will end 38 years of marriage.

Money is expected to be the central issue in the Johannesburg court showdown. Neither the President nor Ms Madikizela-Mandela (as Winnie - having attached her maiden name - now calls herself) has made any public statements. Lawyers for both sides are even refusing to confirm today's hearing. But the news of the pending case and Ms Mandela's supposed gambit to get her hands on half of her husband's estate is all the rage.

Ever since Ms Mandela contested the divorce last year on grounds that the President did not attempt a reconciliation, in accordance with tradition, it has been speculated she would seek financial compensation for her years of support for Mr Mandela while he was in jail and she was raising his two daughters. The big question was how much she was after.

Yesterday the City Press, a Johannesburg weekly, said Ms Mandela was seeking pounds 3m. Quoting sources close to the couple, it said her claim includes a share of his Nobel Peace Prize as well as royalties from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, which has been a best-seller in Europe and America for months.

It also said she is demanding that the President pay off the pounds 80,000 mortgage on her mansion, which is in an area of Soweto nicknamed Beverly Hills.

Money is very important to Ms Mandela now, both for her political and her personal survival. She is said be in a great deal of debt after the President dismissed her last year as deputy arts and culture minister. Since then she has been involved in a costly series of legal wrangles, some brought against her, others started by her. So far she has lost one and still has several pending.

The President initiated the divorce proceedings after separating in 1992, two years after his release from 27 years in prison. The separation was partly prompted by rumours of an affair.

However, in the past few weeks Ms Mandela has emerged from the political wilderness with new vigour and a new image to match. Gone are the flamboyant African robes and head-dresses of old. Instead, she has appeared in parliament, and on the front pages of several newspapers, in sober business suits. She has also been working hard on avoiding controversy. During the recent session of parliament in Cape Town she was described as a "model MP".

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