Stompie's ghost refuses to rest in peace

Mary Braid on the rekindled investigation into the dark days of the Mandela United Football Club

Mary Braid
Sunday 29 June 1997 00:02

In 1989, the battered body of Stompie Moeketsi Seipei was found, his throat slit, in a field near the sprawling township of Soweto. Just 14, Stompie was already both veteran ANC activist and suspected police snitch. His murder was testimony to the dark days of apartheid that so often robbed children of their childhood, and sometimes their lives.

The deaths of these children cast long shadows, as the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, charged with exposing the atrocities of the apartheid years, have illustrated.

In Stompie's case, however, his shadow has fallen not across the perpetrators of apartheid, but on those who claimed to be resisting it. And events at the TRC this week have again shown that while his body has been laid to rest, the controversy surrounding his death has not.

Stompie was kidnapped from a church home in Soweto and taken to the home of Winnie Mandela, then wife of the imprisoned ANC leader and now President, Nelson Mandela, where he was severely beaten.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela, as she is now known, claimed she took the teenager from the church home because he was being sexually abused. Although charged with murder, she was convicted only of kidnapping and beating the boy. She was sentenced to six years in jail but this was later reduced to a fine.

This week Stompie rose from the veld to haunt her again, this time with the encouragement of the commission. She may yet regret her decision to ignore the TRC's closing date last month for amnesty applications for politically motivated crimes.

Emma Nicholson is among the forces gathering against the President's ex-wife. The former British MP is the self-styled "champion" of Katiza Cebekhulu, a former member of Ms Madikizela-Mandela's thuggish bodyguards who, under the nickname Mandela United Football Club, terrorised Soweto in the late 1980s. The club was "captained" by Jerry Richardson, currently serving life for Stompie's murder.

This week TRC officials revealed a fresh inquiry into Mandela United was drawing to a close and Ms Nicholson was expected to fly to Johannesburg to discuss the whereabouts of Mr Cebekhulu who disappeared while on trial with Ms Madikizela-Mandela over the death.

He surfaced in a Zambian jail claiming he had been spirited away from South Africa by ANC members anxious that he did not give evidence. It was there that he met Ms Nicholson, a parliamentary spokesperson on human rights. She taped an interview with him, later described as "sensational". She is one of the few people who have any idea where he is now hiding, apparently too terrified to return: some reports say his "safe house" is in London, some in Lusaka.

"We are very keen to talk to Mr Cebekhulu so we have to go through Ms Nicholson who guards him rather jealously," said a TRC insider, after information leaked earlier this week that a subpoena would soon be issued, summoning Ms Madikizela-Mandela to a private hearing. That leak led Commissioner Dumile Ntsebeza to admit new allegations about the football club which went far beyond what was known before.

The TRC insider dismissed as "way off the mark" a report that it now had a map showing where other children's bodies could be found - but another allegation involving a mineshaft where children were dumped was still under investigation.

The inquiry seems to have been prompted in part by pressure from the families of children who went missing after being threatened by Ms Madikizela- Mandela's "team". A few years ago the father of Lolo Sono, 21, claimed that in 1988 he saw his son, battered and bleeding in the back of a minibus driven by her. When the distraught father implored her to let Lolo go, he said, she refused and drove off insisting Lolo was a "sell-out." He was never seen again.

In addition, the family of Dr Abu-Bakr Asvat, who was murdered during a robbery at his home four weeks after Stompie died, have pressed the Commission to investigate links with Mandela United. Dr Asvat is believed to have examined Stompie shortly before he died.

Ms Nicholson has previously claimed to have evidence about Dr Asvat's murder. But this week she said that she felt Mr Cebekhulu's importance to the current investigation was being exaggerated. His evidence she said amounted to corroboration of what others already knew.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela remained tight-lipped last week. Despite attempts to stem the flow of leaks on one of its most politically sensitive investigations, Commission officials have said privately that former associates of hers are "singing" about the past in their bid for amnesty.

They apparently include Richardson and Xoliswa Falati, who served a two-year jail sentence for her part in Stompie's death. In court she provided her then best friend with an alibi against murder charges but, like Richardson, she has since given newspaper interviews where she claims she committed perjury.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela, affectionately referred to as "mummy" by the old football team, has claimed a political smear campaign has been launched against her. She has even appealed to Mr Cebekhulu to come home, insisting he has nothing to fear.

But his elderly mother Joyce, who claims not to have heard a whimper from her son in eight years, warned that "the killers" will get him if he returned. So far he appears to prefer his biological mother's advice to that of his former political "mummy".

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