Winnie fights to stay wed to Mandela

Johannesburg - Winnie Mandela's lawyers said in court yesterday that she would fight divorce proceedings brought by her estranged husband, President Nelson Mandela, on the grounds that the 37-year marriage could be saved. But Mrs Mandela said in papers filed in the Rand Supreme Court in Johannesburg that if the divorce was granted, she wanted half of her husband's assets.

The couple separated in April 1992 after Mrs Mandela was convicted of complicity in kidnapping and assault of children in Soweto. Her driver and bodyguard were convicted of murdering one of the children.

Mrs Mandela, 60, claimed her husband had not followed African cultural traditions in seeking reconciliation, forgiveness and family cohesion and had not recognised her role in making him internationally famous. "In the circumstances, there are reasonable prospects that with proper and adequate counselling, including the cultural and traditional tutelage, the parties have reasonable prospects to reconcile," her lawyers said in the papers.

"During the subsistence of the marriage, the defendant [Mrs Mandela] contributed directly and indirectly to the maintenance and increase of the plaintiff's estate, by rendering services, immortalising the global profile of the plaintiff, and further by other means."

Mr Mandela, 77, who is said to be planning a third marriage, claimed in a summons pinned to Mrs Mandela's door recently that their marriage had irretrievably broken down. She had allegedly dodged officials trying to serve papers on her.

The papers filed by Mrs Mandela yesterday said the presidenthad failed adequately to recognise her role in bringing up their two daughters and her protection of them under apartheid.

"She is very ill-advised to contest this. Whatever she does to hurt her husband hurts the African National Congress and rebounds on her," said a political analyst, Robert Schrire. "The only sensible thing would be for her to be as gracious as possible to minimise the damage ... I think it will be the death of her politically."

Others were less sure. "Winnie Mandela is a survivor. You don't have to admire her manner or politics to admire her ability to come back again and again," said an ANC official.

The case is the fourth this year to involve Mr Mandela and his wife, who earlier challenged the technicalities of her dismissal as a deputy minister, forcing the president to reappoint her and fire her a second time.