The political career of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the controversial former wife of Nelson Mandela, is in jeopardy after she was charged yesterday with fraud and theft involving nearly one million rands (£75,000).
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, who is the president of the African National Congress Women's League, was released on bail of 5,000 rands at Pretoria special commercial crimes court and told to return on 20 November to be given a trial date. If she is found guilty, the South African parliament ethics committee could recommend she be removed from office.
The firebrand politician, who retains a strong following in the townships despite her divorce from the former South African president Nelson Mandela in 1996, faces 60 counts of fraud involving 930,000 rands and 25 counts of fraud involving about 10,000 rands, investigators said.
She is jointly accused, with Addy Moolman, a broker, who allegedly obtained personal loans for fictitious ANC Women's League employees from Saambou Bank using Mrs Madikizela-Mandela's name and letterheads.
Mr Moolman, described as her financial adviser, surrendered to police in June and is in custody awaiting a 20 November hearing.
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was hailed as the "Mother of the Nation" during the apartheid years, when she endured several spells in jail and solitary detention. She was convicted in 1991 of kidnapping four youths. One, Stompei Seipei Moeketsi, aged 14, was later found dead and her chief bodyguard was convicted of the murder.
If found guilty of the fraud charges, Mrs Madikizela- Mandela will have a criminal record for the first time since democracy in South Africa.
Earlier this week, she told South African newspapers the allegations had no foundation and were part of a smear campaign by other members of the ANC. She said she would not be in such financial difficulties if she had defrauded a bank.
Mrs Madikizela-Mandela has recently gained a reputation for poor management of money and owes 51,000 rands in electricity arrears on her Soweto villa. A restaurant she runs was raided last month for allegedly not having a licence to serve alcohol.
Yesterday in court, her lawyers asked for her release without bail. They said she earned only 17,000 rands a month but spent an average of 72,000 rands a month. The difference, they said, was made up with donations from supporters.
In July, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was exposed as having dabbled in diamond-dealing when the First National Bank seized some of her investments worth more than 1m rands after she failed to repay a 600,000-rand loan. At the time, she said she had been the victim of a hoax but a judge ruled in favour of the bank.
Earlier this year, a few days after a police raid on her Soweto home, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, who is a diabetic, was taken to hospital with high blood pressure.
On 16 June, when the ANC staged a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Soweto students' uprising against enforced Afrikaans-teaching, President Thabo Mbeki became caught in a public spat with Mrs Madikizela-Mandela. She arrived late, as she generally does for public events. Marching up to President Mbeki to give him a kiss on the cheek, she startled him and he hit her.
The event was captured by photographers and splashed across South African newspapers as proof of the present President's lack of affection for Mrs Madikizela-Mandela.
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