Nurse takes stand as Winnie Mandela's fraud trial resumes

Revered for years as South Africa's "mother of the nation", Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is again embroiled in scandal and this time faces the prospect of going to jail.

The trial of Nelson Mandela's former wife, on fraud and theft charges, resumed yesterday with a South African court hearing evidence for the prosecution. The 65-year-old leader of the women's league of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANCWL) and her co-accused, broker Addy Moolman, are facing 85 charges of fraud and 25 of theft involving $124,000 (£69,000).

They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges. However, they could be jailed for a maximum of 15 years if convicted.

State prosecutors allege that letters on ANCWL letterheads signed by Ms Madikizela-Mandela were fraudulently used to obtain loans from Saambou Bank for fictitious ANCWL employees. The money issued by the bank as loans was then pocketed by the two. The theft charges against Ms Madikizela-Mandela and Mr Moolman relate to deductions from the bank accounts of loan recipients to pay for a funeral plan which did not exist.

A key state witness, Maditaba Raphahla, a widowed nurse, told the court that she had learned of the loan scheme through a pamphlet distributed at her Soweto hospital. The pamphlet said applications could be made at ANC headquarters, where she met Mr Moolman, who made her sign a blank loan application form in September 2000.

Mrs Raphahla said: "I asked him why I must sign blank documents. He said I must sign because I needed the money ... I then signed because I needed the money."

Jan Ferreira, for the prosecution, said Mrs Raphahla's application was completed later and it listed her as a clerk for the ANCWL, when in fact she had been working at her hospital for 20 years. More than 20 witnesses,including Saambou Bank employees, have testified against Ms Madikizela-Mandela since the trial started in July last year.

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