Winnie faces stern test at the grass roots

A chastened Winnie Mandela headed home to lick her political wounds yesterday as it became clear that for now, at least, her much-feared support in disadvantaged black townships may have been overrated.

By late yesterday Mrs Mandela had made no public comment on her sacking from the government of national unity by her estranged husband, President Nelson Mandela. She had been deputy minister for arts, culture, science and technology.

Her former press secretary, Alan Reynolds, said: "She will return to her constituency and remain a loyal member of ANC. Freed from duties as deputy minister, she will devote herself to her constituents."

But as she leaves Cape Town's politics for her mansion in Soweto near Johannesburg, she faces her hardest fight yet out of public disgrace as the first minister of the African National Congress to be fired since it took power after last April's democratic elections.

It is a paradox that while Mrs Mandela, 61, spent much of her energy railing against attacks on her by the media, the reality may be that it was the media that was sustaining her high profile all along.

An ANC spokesman went so far as to claim that not one delegation or supporter was known to have called yesterday to protest at her dismissal at ANC headquarters in Johannesburg. A few small protests have been noted around the country, but they paled by comparison to the demonstrations when she was temporarily forced to resign her ANC posts in 1992 after a conviction for kidnapping.

"She does have support, but our leaders do not have blind support. It is based on principles. You lose it if you go astray," the ANC spokesman said. "So far, the indications are that all the structures have supported the President's decision."

As President Mandela tightened the noose around her neck in the past week, steadily briefing all ANC organisations and allies in order to minimise grass roots protests, Mrs Mandela tried to rally her supporters. "We are the ANC," she shouted to crowds in black townships, flanked by members of a populist group that foreign diplomats like to call the ANC's "corrupt Africanist faction". But when push came to shove, not one of the populists condemned the decision to drop her from the government.

President Mandela had plenty of material to choose from. Police are investigating allegations that Mrs Mandela accepted kickbacks for government contracts, along with other allegations of sleazy activities. She had also repeatedly criticised the government and defied its orders.

Diplomats also point out that while Mrs Mandela was the fifth most popular choice in the election to the ANC's National Executive Council four months ago, the bulk of the 80-member council was dominated by moderates.

"The sacking was well prepared, and her support has been overrated. She was her own worst enemy: ordinary people won't forgive her for corruption. It will take her a long time to recover from this," one diplomat said.

Mrs Mandela does enjoy recognition nation-wide, thanks to her high-profile fight against apartheid. But her best support is localised -in townships east of Johannesburg, where she channelled development money, and in her home area of the Eastern Cape.

Mrs Mandela still has to be careful what she says, because the ANC could remove her from her post as a member of parliament for dissent.

While some radio stations predicted that Mrs Mandela would concentrate on building up a power base to mount a populist challenge for the ultimate succession to President Mandela, the Johannesburg newspaper Business Day saw the ANC moving to the centre-left.

"Her backing remains limited and manageable because most citizens accept that change cannot be wrought overnight. But she will continue to remind the government of the need to deliver," the newspaper said in an editorial.

What went wrong, page 21

Suggested Topics
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice