Winnie could face longer term in jail

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Johannesburg - Winnie Mandela's appeal against her convictions for kidnapping and assault, and a six-year jail sentence, began yesterday in South Africa's highest court, the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein, writes John Carlin.

Counsel for the state is arguing for her jail sentence to be increased, based on the contention that Mandela, contrary to the judge's finding in the trial nearly two years ago, had been present when the assaults took place on Stompie Moeketsi, 14, who was later murdered by one of Mandela's aides and three other young men.

In May 1991, Judge MC Stegmann sentenced Mandela to five years in jail on four counts of kidnapping, and one year on four counts of accessory to assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. But she had testified in court that she had not been present in her Soweto home on 29 December 1988 when the assaults took place and the judge accepted her alibi.

Five judges began hearing argument yesterday morning. Mandela's two co-accused in the trial, Xoliswa Falati and John Morgan, are also appealing against their convictions. Falati, who used to live in Mandela's home, was sentenced to six years and Morgan, Mandela's driver, received a 12-month suspended sentence.

None of the appellants appeared yesterday at the court, which will sit until Friday. Judgment is not expected for three or four weeks. If Mandela loses, she will be jailed.

In Mandela's favour is the fact that the appeal is based exclusively on the evidence and findings of the trial itself. Since then, both Falati and Morgan have told the press that they lied in court to save Mandela's skin. They said they had corroborated her alibi when in fact she had participated in the assaults. But these allegations will not influence the judges' findings.

Nelson Mandela stood by his wife during the trial but was separated from her a year ago.