An incredible journey ends in bitterness

Katiza Cebekhulu owes much to Emma Nicholson, who freed him from an African jail. But, writes John Carlin, it has all turned sour

John Carlin
Sunday 17 May 1998 00:02
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TWICE in Katiza Cebekhulu's life a strong woman has appeared for him like a guardian angel and given refuge when he was alone and in despair. As Katiza sees it, each then betrayed him. As the women see it, he has been reckless with the truth. That, however, is where all similarities between Winnie Mandela and Baroness Nicholson end.

Katiza, 28, now living in Britain, was born in Zulu country, South Africa's Natal province. In the late 1980s he fled the bloody ANC-Inkatha war and arrived destitute in Soweto, Johannesburg. Mrs Mandela gave him a home and incorporated him into her Mandela United Football Club, a notorious gang of thugs.

A witness, he claims, to terrible crimes, Katiza signalled his intention to testify against Mrs Mandela when she was charged with the murder of Stompie Moeketsi Seipei in May 1991. Badly beaten by "Winnie's boys", Katiza was spirited out of South Africa by ANC sympathisers days before the trial. He fetched up in a Zambian jail, under orders from President Kenneth Kaunda, the ANC's friend.

There he might have rotted had not Emma Nicholson, then a Conservative MP, taken an interest. After tireless endeavour she secured his freedom and passage to Britain, where she persuaded the authorities to provide legal sanctuary. In London she put him up at her home and paid for him to learn to read and write. Also, at his request, she arranged for a book to be published - Katiza's Journey, written by the journalist Fred Bridgland.

The book is the reason the two have fallen out. In interviews last week with the Independent on Sunday they gave their versions. He says she reneged on a promise to give him the copyright of the book, which she owns under powers of attorney he granted in the summer of 1995. He also says she told him she would only grant his request for the book's copyright if he paid her pounds 50,000 - according to him, the amount she says she spent on him since securing his release.

She denies having sought money from him or made any profit from the book. She also says she means to give Katiza the copyright, but not yet. It is a sad outcome to an otherwise uplifting tale, one in which the bitterness, curiously, appears keener on Katiza's side.

"Yes, she did many things for me," said Katiza, who left Baroness Nicholson's care four months ago. "She paid for my schooling, paid for me to live in Britain, paid for me to come here. Emma helped me a lot. I appreciate it very much. But now she is taking advantage of me. Now I see there was something behind it. But she did not say that at the time. She says now that if I pay the expenses, the pounds 50,000, then I get the copyright. She is playing a game, that never was the agreement. The agreement I had with you, I told her, is that you help me out for nothing, as you told the United Nations."

Baroness Nicholson, who last year joined the Liberal Democrats, says her motives have been exclusively humanitarian and honourable. She did enter into a formal agreement on the book with Katiza and Mr Bridgland, but "I myself was expressly excluded from any benefits of any kind arising from this agreement and all money I received ... has been paid to Mr Cebekhulu."

Katiza acknowledges that he received a pounds 10,000 cheque from Baroness Nicholson, who says she has never asked "Mr Cebekhulu [to] reimburse me for any of these expenses, notwithstanding their high amount".

She does not challenge Katiza's claim that she promised to cede him the copyright. Last year, testifying to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she said that while it had been impossible at first to assign copyright to Katiza, as he had no legal status, "I ... intend to hand it on to him now that he has residency ... in the UK".

After that promise Baroness Nicholson says she made the humiliating discovery at the commission that Katiza's Journey was full of inaccuracies and misleading statements - Mr Bridgland contests this. She vowed, also under oath, to have the book corrected before it was printed again. It is to ensure this, she says, that she has held on to the copyright. To her dismay, she says, she found last month that the original, uncorrected version had been published and distributed in a Dutch translation.

She has taken legal action against the publishers, Macmillan, to stop distribution. Katiza, who has sided with Mr Bridgland, responded on 30 April by signing an affidavit legally revoking Baroness Nicholson's power of attorney. There the matter stands, with her maintaining she is seeking to abide by her promise to the truth commission; Katiza accusing her of bad faith and seeking to control him "like a child". Mr Bridgland describes her as "cruel" for "letting down" Katiza.

Baroness Nicholson says she does not see the problem, especially as, she says, a corrected version of the book exists which she hopes will come out in Britain in paperback this summer. She says she bears Katiza no ill will and will support his efforts to build his life in Britain. "He got his freedom, his sanctuary, his book. People have worked miracles for him. I am glad - delighted - to have helped him. I just hope that at some point in his life he will stop running, he will stop feeling the world is against him."

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