Nelson should bid Winnie goodbye

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The Independent Online
A few weeks after becoming president Nelson Mandela was asked how he justified appointing his estranged wife, Winnie, as deputy minister of arts and culture. She was, after all, a convicted criminal, guilty of kidnapping and assault. Was it not the mission of his government to sweep South Africa with a new moral broom? One should understand Mrs Mandela's appointment, the South African president replied, "from the point of view of the government of national unity, which has all sorts of people whose hands are dripping with blood".

With stunning candour Mr Mandela laid bare the harsh secret behind South Africa's peaceful transition to democracy. The miracle worked because he sacrificed long-standing principle on the altar of political pragmatism; to suspend majority rule until the end of the century by including Inkatha and the National Party in his cabinet; to dilute the power of the ANC, which won more than 60 per cent of the national vote, in the interest of stability. He extended the same logic to his wife, a bejewelled populist thought to command a devoted following among the poor and the radical youth. No one really knows just how widespread her support is, and therefore how dangerous her isolation from the political mainstream might be. So Mr Mandela played safe and brought her into the government. Grandly, he overlooked the infidelity that prompted the marital separation and the charges that she had misused ANC funds.

Since the new government took over in May, Mr Mandela has remained consistently uncritical of the erstwhile "mother of the nation" - even though she has allegedly spent more government money on personal bodyguards than the rest of the cabinet put together; even though she allegedly accepted a gift of a luxury Cape Town home from a white friend who happened to be a convicted diamond smuggler; even though she has yet to explain why she was sued for non-payment two months ago by a charter flight company she had hired to fetch diamonds from Angola.

Last week she added disloyalty and ingratitude to her list of misdeeds. She accused the ANC government she herself serves of failing to abolish racism and to address the economic imbalances left behind by apartheid. While Mr Mandela privately fumed, the ANC Women's League took public action. Eleven senior members of the league resigned on Saturday in protest at what they described as the organisation's bad, undemocratic leadership. The word in South Africa yesterday was that Mr Mandela, acting behind the scenes, had dispatched his deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, to tell Mrs Mandela either to retract her statements critical of the government or resign.

Mr Mandela is wrong to give her that choice: she is a dangerous woman who has exploited her association with one of the world's noblest political leaders. He should expel her from his government and bring to bear the full weight of his authority to extinguish her political career. Winnie Mandela deserves no power in the new South African state.