Winniegate trail leads to cover-up

Jerry Richardson, Winnie Madikizela-Mandelas former right-hand man, was paid R10 000 by police after a shoot-out in Soweto in 1988 in which two African National Congress guerrillas and a police officer were killed, the Mail & Guardian established this week.

This disclosure reinforces long-standing rumours that Richardson was a police agent, which in turn fuels suspicions that there has been a massive cover-up involving the state and the ANC of the Winnie scandal.

The controversy surrounding the former wife of the president escalated further this week with the publicaition of a book by former British foreign correspondent, Fred Bridgland, purporting to make further disclosures relating to the murder of Stompie Sepei, Dr Abu Baker Asvat and a range of other alleged criminal activities by Madikizela-Mandela and her associates.

The book, launched in South Africa by a British peer, Dame Emma Nicolson, is based largely on the testimony of the missing witness in Winnies 1991 kidnapping trial, Katiza Cebekhulu.

Although most of the information in the book has been previously reported, it raises a significant new charge by alleging that President Nelson Mandela had a part in Cebekhulus detention in a Zambian jail. The President has emphatically denied this, and other than a vague assertion by Kenneth Kaunda that he believed the instruction to have originated from Mandela, the book does not sustain the charge.

In the tradition of national scandals — of which Watergate is the most famous example — the significance of Winniegate is now beginning to turn not on the original crimes but the cover-up. In the excited pursuit of Winnies alleged wrongdoing by the media there is a danger that the reliability of witnesses is being overlooked. It is rarely noted, for example, that Katiza Cebekhulu now her main accuser was a petty thief and that he took part, by his own confession, in the fatal assault on Stompie.

Nevertheless, his evidence and that of others involved in Winniegate raise worrying questions that point to a cover-up going to high levels of the government and possibly involving collusion between the ANC and the security forces in the apartheid era.

One such question is why Winnie was a seemingly sacred cow where some of the police were concerned at a time when the ANC and the security forces were in a state of war against each other. A striking example is a shoot-out on November 9 1988 when two ANC guerillas and a policeman were killed in a firefight that destroyed Richardsons Soweto house.

At a subsequent inquest Richardson said the two guerrillas were brought to the house by Winnie, but the police seemingly failed to question her about her involvement with the two MK men. Richardson, who surrendered during the firefight, was never charged, but was paid a R10 000 reward by the police.

Evidence that Richardson was in police pay suggests the security forces had comprehensive knowledge of Winnies activities in smuggling and arming ANC guerrillas, yet never chose to act against her.

Some other questions pointing to a possible cover-up include:

  • What was the role of Captain Fred Dempsey from the Soweto murder and robbery squad investigating the activities of the Mandela United Football Club? One of the most sensational allegations made by the Bridgland book is that Katiza Cebekhulu was handed over to Winnie by Dempsey on the eve of her 1991 trial.

    Cebekhulu claims that after three months on the run, he was arrested by police in Soweto on January 21, 1991, and handed over to Dempsey. He assumed he was going to be detained until Winnies trial opened on February 4. But instead they drove me to Winnies house. I thought they were going to arrest her too, but they spoke to her in Afrikaans and then handed me over to her. I couldnt believe it. I refused to get out of the car. But they grabbed me and pulled me out … for the first time I realised Winnie is working with the police. In an interview with the M&G this week, Dempsey flatly denied the allegations.

  • What role if any, did Mandela play in the cover-up? Cebekhulu claims that he actually met Mandela in September 1992 when he was on a visit to Zambia. There was Mandela and two other officials I dont know who they were in a big room. It was a long meeting. I hid nothing. I told everything. He [Mandela] promised to work on my case and release me soon so that I could come home.

    The Bridgland book also claims that Zambias President Frederick Chiluba had discovered state papers which purported to be the full story of Katizas abduction from South Africa … the official papers suggested a surprising possibility: the mastermind behind the kidnap of Cebekhulu was claimed to be Nelson Mandela. It is alleged that he had asked Kaunda, through Oliver Tambo, to take Cebekhulu out of circulation. Mandela said this week he wanted to make it clear he did not arrange for Cebekhulu to be taken out of South Africa, or to be incarcerated in Zambia. Mandela also denied having met Cebekhulu when he visited Zambia in 1992.

  • Why was the chief investigator into the Asvat murder, Colonel Henk Heslinga, so convinced from the early stage of the inquiry that the motive was purely one of robbery? Asvats brother, Dr Ebrahim Asvat, has pointed out that the robbers took only R135 and left R300 behind. My brother was not the sort of person to put up a fight. He would just have given them the money.

    In addition, one of the men found guilty of murdering Asvat, Nicholas Dlamini, made a statement after his arrest saying that they were contracted to carry out the killing by Winnie. And yet Heslinga has gone on record as saying: I am convinced it was an ordinary robbery I am 100% convinced. It appears Winnie has never been questioned over the Asvat murder. The prosecutor in the Asvat case, Jannie van der Merwe, who is now at the Cape Bar, has told the M&G the statement by Dlamini contradicted one by the co-accused Cyril Mbatha and it was suggested to him Dlamini had been persuaded by junior policemen to make the statement about Winnies involvement. I requested Heslinga to approach the accused after they were convicted, to enquire from them whether there was any information they wished to add about the possible involvement of Madikizela-Mandela and I was informed they turned the offer down.

  • How was Winnie able to get away with her Brandfort alibi at her 1991 trial, an alibi that is now widely believed to have been fabricated? As one newspaper columnist said at the time: If the feeble efforts by the state to destroy Madikizela-Mandelas alibi was any indication, they would have been happy to have avoided a prosecution.

    Ironically, at the time Madikizela-Mandela went on trial, a supreme court judge had already found in Jerry Richardsons trial for the murder of Stompie that Winnie was present at the fatal assault on the teenager. There was additional evidence in medical records at Asvats surgery which showed she was in Soweto on the day she claimed to be in Brandfort.

  • Why has the former Winnie Mandela Crisis Committee never disclosed what they knew about the Asvat murder?

    The committee was made up of people who now hold key positions in government and society including the Reverend Frank Chikane, now personal advisor to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Sydney Mufamadi, now Minister of Safety and Security, Sister Bernard Ncube, now a member of Parliament, Cyril Ramaphosa, until recently ANC secretary general, and the Reverend Beyers Naude.

The M&G has learnt that committee members interviewed Asvat before his death and are believed to have got confirmation that he examined Stompie at Winnies house, in her presence, and that the boy was dying.

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Wally Mbhele
Guest Author
Peta Thornycroft
Guest Author

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