'Winnie hired me to kill Dr Asvat'
One of the two men convicted of the killing of Dr Abu Baker Asvat at his Soweto surgery on January 27 1989 described this week how they were contracted by Winnie Madikizela- Mandela to carry out the assassination to cover up the beating of the murdered activist Stompie Seipei.
In an hour-long exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian in a Durban prison, Thulani Nicholas Dlamini, who is seeking amnesty for the murder, said: “Mrs Mandela promised us R20 000 to murder Dr Asvat.”
His story is corroborated in an affidavit signed by fugitive Katiza Cebekhulu, who claims to have first met Dlamini and his accomplice, Cyril Mbatha, at Madikizela-Mandela’s house in Diepkloof, Soweto, shortly before the murder of Asvat. Cebekhulu was spirited out of the country on the eve of Madikizela-Mandela’s trial in 1991.
Cebekulu is now under the protection of a former British MP, Emma Nicholson.
In the statement, taken in London by a South African police officer, Cebekhulu claims to have driven two men—apparently Dlamini and Mbatha - to show them where Asvat’s surgery’s was.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is in possession of Cebekhulu’s affidavit and it is believed that it is going to form a crucial part of the commission’s probe into Madikizela-Mandela.
She has been subpoenaed to appear before the truth commission on September 25 and 26, where she will be questioned about the murder of Stompie and other activities related to the Mandela Football Club.
Dlamini told the M&G he had first reported the details of Madikizela-Mandela’s involvement in Asvat’s murder in a statement to the police in 1989, but they refused to make use of it in the court case. He failed to explain why he had not repeated it during the case, in which he pleaded not guilty. However, according to police documents, Dlamini was beaten up and had his nose broken in prison by Jerry Richardson, Mandela United Football Team coach.
The court found that the motive for the murder was robbery, and the two were found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment.
At the insistence of the Asvat family, the investigation was reopened in 1995 with the same team of detectives. Superintendent HT Moodley confirmed that he had interviewed Cebukhulu in London. However, he denied that Madikizela-Mandela was being probed.
In answer to questions about the possibility of a cover-up, police have insisted that the witnesses were too unreliable to sustain a prosecution, their statements often contradicting one another. Dlamini told the M&G that Richardson was present in Asvat’s Soweto surgery when the assassination took place.
Police statements in the M&G‘s possession claim that Richardson was in the surgery hours before the murder. He first visited Asvat on January 26 1989 at “about 5pm or 6pm ... to complain of a pain in the anus”.
According to the police documents, Richardson’s medical record was filled out in Asvat’s handwriting before he paid a surprise visit again the following day, “ostensibly for follow-up treatment”. Dlamini told the M&G he first came across Cebekhulu “at Mrs Mandela’s house in Orlando West. He was the one who led us to Dr Asvat’s surgery, where he pointed it out to us.”
Dlamini said this was after the meeting with Madikizela-Mandela, who promised to pay them R20 000 once the planned assassination had successfully been carried out. He claimed that the price on Asvat’s head was proposed by Mbatha—who was convicted with him of the murder—after Madikizela- Mandela had asked how much they would charge for the doctor’s assassination.
Although he could not recall the date, Dlamini said they had first been introduced to Madikizela-Mandela by an intermediary known to him as “Shwala Botha”, who told them Winnie had promised a lot of money for Asvat’s killing because of the death of Stompie.
“He said we should not worry about weapons as we would be supplied with firearms to carry out the mission,” recalled Dlamini.
According to Cebekhulu’s affidavit, Asvat was killed because he refused to provide Madikizela-Mandela with false medical certificates to say he was sexually abused by the Methodist church cleric Paul Verryn and because he was a witness to the fact that Stompie had been badly beaten at Madikizela-Mandela’s house.
“He told Mrs Mandela that he did not believe that I had been raped at all. He invited her to explain why, if I had been raped, she had not brought me to see him that same day,” says Cebekhulu. The following day, on December 31 1988, Asvat visited Mandela’s house after he was called to examine Stompie who, together with other youths, was badly assaulted after being accused of sleeping with Verryn.
Cebekhulu provides a chilling description of Stompie’s last days at the Mandela home: “I do not know why Mrs Mandela assaulted and ordered seven others to assault Stompie so fiercely, except that she also accused him of being a police informer ...
“Dr Asvat came and said Stompie could die at anytime and must go to hospital immediately. The doctor left ... Late that night and after the household had gone to bed, I heard steps, looked out and saw Mrs Mandela carrying something in her hand which she lifted high and plunged down into a body that I identified as being Stompie. “The following morning the water in the swimming pool had gone, bloodstains were on the pool surface and Stompie had disappeared.”
At the trial in 1991, Madikizela-Mandela was cleared of involvement in the fatal assault on Stompie after the judge had accepted her alibi that she had been in Brandfort at the time. Since the trial, however, the witnesses who supported her alibi have retracted their evidence. According to Dlamini, the day they first met Madikizela-Mandela, they entered her Diepkloof house through the back door.
“We found a lady whom Botha asked if we can see Winnie. We sat in the dining room while she went to inform her about our presence,” he recalled this week. “Mrs Mandela came and greeted us before Botha introduced us. Botha said we are the people who can help in connection with that matter.
“After asking us if we have the courage to carry out that mission, we told her that we have no problem. She asked how much would we want. Cyril said R20 000. “She said we should first carry out the attack and Katiza [Cebekhulu] will show us Asvat’s place. Katiza pointed out the place to us the following Thursday and we did not find Dr Asvat that day.”
In his affidavit, filed thousands of kilometres away, Cebekhulu confirms Dlamini’s story. He says: “A few days before I went to the police station with Krish Naidoo [Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyer at the time] and subsequently with Mrs Mandela to Dr Asvat’s surgery, two young men had come to see Mrs Mandela.
“Mrs Mandela had called me and instructed me to drive with them and show them where Dr Asvat’s surgery was and in which street. I had shown them the surgery ... “I had not seen these men in Mrs Mandela’s house before, nor had I met them in any other place.”
According to Dlamini, who claims all his statements implicating Madikizela-Mandela were rejected by the police, there were many people in Asvat’s surgery when the assassination took place.
“After we entered the surgery, Cyril’s name was written in the register book and his fingerprints were taken. There was a waiting room with an electric grill door leading to the consultation room. Cyril was called,” he said.
“He went in while I stayed behind. Immediately after he entered the consultation room, I heard shots going out. He shot him twice before we ran away. People screamed and ran in different directions while others took cover.
“We were supposed to fetch our promised R20 000 from Mrs Winnie Mandela the following day. However, her driver John Morgan told us that she’s gone somewhere near to Vereeniging and that she’ll come back sometime on Sunday night.” However, he and Mbatha were arrested before they were paid.
The latest disclosures about the Asvat killing—much of which is based on evidence which has been available to the authorities for years - again raises questions about a possible cover-up. One of the investigators, Superintendent Moodley, took several statements from Dlamini in Durban prison this year, after the investigation had closed.
Dlamini said he had been under the impression that he was being interviewed for his amnesty application to the truth commission. But the commission said it had seen no sign of any application from Dlamini, and Moodley denied that Dlamini had mentioned Madikizela-Mandela in the statements.
Dr Asvat’s brother, Dr Ebrahim Asvat, this week demanded that the police investigation be reopened once more, but this time with new investigating officers.
Attempts to reach Madikizela-Mandela for comment were unsuccessful.