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Stompie witness resurfaces

A key witness who disappeared before testifying in Winnie Madikizela- Mandela's trial for the kidnapping of a murdered teenage activist has applied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty.

The news that Katiza Cebekhulu, currently under the wing of former British MP Emma Nicholson, will return to South Africa from London comes two days after Ms Madikizela-Mandela, President Nelson Mandela's former wife, was finally supoenaed to appear before the Commission.

The Commission, charged with exposing the truth about South Africa'a apartheid past, wants to interview her about the activities of her former bodyguards, the notorious Mandela United Football Team which terrorised Soweto in the late 1980s. Its probe will cover the death of activist Stompie Seipei Moeketsi, 14, who was found with his throat slit in 1989. Jerry Richardson, Ms Madikizela- Mandela's chief bodyguard, was later convicted of his murder.

Before the boy was killed he had been taken to Mrs Madikizela- Mandela's home and severely beaten. In a trial in 1991, which marred the release of her former husband, Ms Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of Stompie's kidnap. A six-year jail sentence was later reduced to a R15000 fine. But rumours that she played a greater role have refused to go away.

In recent weeks there have been a frenzy of "leaks" from the TRC claiming that Ms Madikizela-Mandela's bodyguards are implicated in as many as 11 murders. Some reports have claimed former team members are now "singing" in their bid win over the Commission which can grant amnesty in return for full disclosure of political crimes.

After disappearing during the trial, Mr Cebekulu, a former member of the football team, surfaced in a Zambian jail which is apparently where he met Ms Nicholson, then a parliamentary human rights spokesman. He claimed to have been spirited out of the country by ANC officials.

The summons of Ms Madikizela-Mandela is very sensitive. She still has considerable grassroots support despite her fall from grace and her divorce by her husband. Recently re-elected leader of the ANC's Women's League she has been complaining that the TRC is harrassing her. At the weekend she said she would decline its invitation to give evidence in camera and would insist on being heard in public.