If Winnie Mandela had made it to Parys at the weekend, she would have found forgiveness, reports Sibusiso Nxumalo
SLAIN child activist Stompie Seipei’s unmarked grave in the Parys township of Tumahole had been specially cleaned for the occasion. A buffet luncheon had been laid on at a local hotel; the community hall was filled with people.
But Winnie Mandela, deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology, failed to arrive.
Residents of Tumahole have not forgotten the 14-year-old activist whose decomposed body was found in Soweto early in 1989. Nor have they forgotten Mandela’s conviction for her part in Stompie’s abduction, or the appeal in which her jail sentence was reduced to a R15 000 fine and a suspended sentence.
But Sunday’s gathering was part of an attempt to heal the wounds of the past. At Mandela’s request, local ANC structures had arranged for her to meet Stompie’s mother, Joyce Seipei, and address those gathered at the hall.
As they waited, residents wondered where Mandela was: “She’s still at the hotel in town,” said one man, a new South African flag-pin on his lapel. A youth in a Chris Hani T- shirt insisted she was at Joyce Seipei’s home.
When news filtered through that “ministerial duties” meant Mandela was no longer coming, people began to grumble. “It seems she feels too guilty,” said Qondile Kuedawa.
“Mandela should come and speak to the people of Tumahole so that we can get the past behind us” said Papi Refutso.
In her shack in Tumahole’s Sisulu squatter camp, Joyce Seipei received the news of Winnie’s non-arrival with equanimity. “Winnie was busy today and could not come,” she said. “But she sent me that sheep which I assume was sent for condolences.
“I was very excited to meet her and speak to her about the past. There are also some things we must speak about away from the media’s eye.
She remains hopeful of one day meeting the woman she calls “the mother of the nation”.
“I used to think that Winnie was involved in my son’s death and there was a time when I was bitter towards her. But one cannot grieve forever and now that I am comforted, I would be happy to meet Winnie”.
Seipei showed rare compassion for Jerry Richardson, whose death sentence for Stompie’s murder was later commuted to life imprisonment. “My loss may be greater, but when they put Jerry Richardson away for so long I felt sorry for his family,” she said.
She also showed forgiveness to Xoliswa Falati, who went to jail for her part in Stompie’s abduction and visited Seipei on her release.”I did not want to talk to her,” she recalled, “but she is flesh and blood and she humbled herself before me. What else could I do?”
But times are hard for Seipei. Unemployed, with two young children to feed, she exists on the goodwill of her cousin, Joyce Hlengezele, who runs a small shop from her home in Tumahole’s newer section.
Hlengezele believes Seipei should be compensated for her loss. “If Stompie was alive he would have provided for his mother. Now I have to give what little I can.”
Seipei agrees. “I have not received anything from the ANC. Stompie might have been working for them and giving me some money.”
She nevertheless remains a committed member of the ANC Women’s League. “Stompie use to tell me that the struggle was fought so that I too could have rights. I thought about it and decided to join,” she said.
She has even forgiven the times when, in a bid to protect Mandela, ANC structures told her what to say at press conferences. “A person’s corpse will float into sight one day. You cannot hide the truth.” the court verdict and have given up trying to tell me what to say to the press.”
She has named her breast-feeding baby daughter Matshidiso, which means “condolences”.Breast-feeding the baby-girl she has named Matshidiso – condolences – she said she felt that this was a child given to her comfort her in her loss. “I was told that a dream I had, in which Nelson Mandela came to Tumahole and I fell into a river, meant that I would conceive. I swore that I would call my child Matshidiso or Tshidiso, depending on its sex.” Mandela did come to Tumahole; nine months later, Seipei gave birth. “It is almost like this is truly my child and that Stompie was just passing through,” she said.Mandela’s representative, Bongi Zokwe, said the meeting was intended to be connfidential and that so were the reasons for Mandela’s last-minute cancellation. She said Mandela’s lawyers wanted to know how the Mail and Guardian had found out about the event.Archie Thlobelo of the ANC’s Tumahole branch said they had been told Winnie could not come because of a protocol problem: regional premier Patrick Lekota had not been informed. But Brenda Klassen in the premier’s office said that although Lekota was unaware of the meeting, that would not have presented a problem. “There must have been some other reason” she said.