More corpses in Winnie’s cupboard

As the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela scandal grows, so does the list of those who will testify against her. Wally Mbhele, Peta Thornycroft and David Beresford report.

More corpses have floated to the surface of the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela scandal as theTruth and Reconciliation Commission prepares to expose the full extent of the murder and mayhem surrounding the Mandela United Football Club next week.

Fresh information linking Madikizela- Mandela to the assassination in 1988 of 18-year-old Soweto student activist Sicelo Dlomo — whose mysterious death was blamed on the apartheid security forces — will emerge at the hearings.

New evidence is also expected to emerge about the involvement of Zinzi Mandela-Hlongwane’s boyfriend and father of one of her children, Sizwe Sithole, in a string of murders. Sithole died under mysterious circumstances while in police custody. In the words of one former member of the Mandela United Football Club: ”Sizwe had told the police how he was used as a killing machine by Winnie.”

The five days of hearings promise to produce the most sensational piece of political theatre seen in South Africa since Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his inauguration as president. It now appears that, in an attempt to halt Madikizela-Mandela’s bid for power as deputy president, the ANC is doing everything it can to expose the truth of the scandal surrounding her.

Key figures in the liberation movement, who have previously kept silent about what they knew, have volunteered to testify against her. These include Walter Sisulu’s wife, Albertina, and members of the ”crisis committee” set up at Mandela’s request in 1988 in an attempt to protect Madikizela- Mandela.

The truth commission itself — recognising that the Madikizela-Mandela inquiry will be seen by the world as the toughest test of its independence and integrity — is showing a determination to get to the bottom of the scandal. They have identified about 20 incidents of murder, abduction, torture, assault and betrayal which they plan to investigate during the hearings.

In the process they have disclosed fresh allegations of Madikizela-Mandela’s involvement in murders. She is now being linked with the killing of a young member of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee whose death had previously been blamed on the apartheid security forces.

Dlomo was shot dead on January 23 1988, shortly after his release from detention. His death was given worldwide publicity because he had starred in a powerful documentary, Children of Apartheid, made by the American television network, CBS.
He had been questioned by police during his detention about his involvement in the film. During his funeral, police fired tear-gas to break up angry crowds gathered at his family home, the church and the cemetery.

Several former members of the Mandela United Football Club are expected to open a can of worms, implicating Madikizela-Mandela in a string of unsolved murders with at least two of them naming her as being responsible for Dlomo’s murder. A former member of the ANC armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, and previously Madikizela-Mandela’s aide, Xoliswa Falati, is among the witnesses who are expected to shed light on Dlomo’s cold-blooded killing.

Dlomo’s mother, Sylvia, recently made a moving plea to the truth commission’s human-rights violations committee to help her uncover the killers of her son. She had insisted that policemen were responsible for Sicelo Dlomo’s death as they had on numerous occasions detained and harassed him.

”I know it will be painful to find out who killed Sicelo, but it will also help heal at the same time. Every morning, after praying for my safety, I ask the Lord to keep me alive until I know the truth,” said Dlomo’s mother in a recent interview.

Further, in what could prove a severe setback for Madikizela-Mandela at next week’s hearing, one of five witnesses she has been counting on to help her prove her innocence has turned on her. The witness, Pelo Mekgwe, is believed to be among a host of witnesses lined up by the truth commission to testify against Madikizela-Mandela. He is expected to tell about the day when he and two other members of the football club, Thabiso Mono and Kenneth Kgase, were abducted from the Methodist manse in Soweto.

Mekgwe disappeared four days before the start of the Winnie Mandela trial in 1991, but recently emerged alongside Madikizela- Mandela at a press conference as one of her witnesses.

It is also doubtful if Madikizela-Mandela will produce her remaining four witnesses as they are believed never to have belonged to the football team. They are reportedly student activists from Kwa-Thema on the East Rand.

The Mail & Guardian has reliably established that the man who personally carried out Dlomo’s assassination has applied for amnesty from the truth commission and has named Madikizela-Mandela as the person who ordered him to assassinate the youth.

It is believed that a statement made to the police by Sithole shortly before his mysterious death in detention – hanging himself with shoelaces which had earlier been taken from him — will also shed light on Dlomo’s death. Sithole’s statement has never been made public and was also not used at the subsequent inquest into his death.

Another witness who is likely to damage Madikizela-Mandela when she takes the witness stand is Phumzile Dlamini. She is expected to recall how she was brutally assaulted by Madikizela-Mandela and other members of the football team in 1988 while she was pregnant.
Dlamini was accused of being impregnated by a man who had arrived with Madikizela- Mandela following her banishment from Brandfort. The man is alleged to have been involved in ”an intimate affair with Madikizela-Mandela”.

Dlamini, whose brother Tholi was allegedly murdered by Sithole after being accused of selling out to the police, has been placed under the truth commission’s witness protection programme as commissioners believe she is vulnerable to attack.
The dice appears to be heavily weighted against Madikizela-Mandela. Some of the witnesses lined up by the truth commission include her personal driver, John Morgan, and jailed football club coach Jerry Richardson.

Other witnesses include Falati; Ikaneng Lerothodi, who survived two assassination attempts at the hands of Richardson; Thabiso Mono, who also disappeared from the Methodist manse; as well as jailed football club member Charles Zwane, who is also seeking amnesty.

More than 30 witnesses have been called to testify during five days of the hearing. Madikizela-Mandela will appear on the last day of the hearing.
Nichodemus Sono, whose son Lolo was allegedly abducted in Madikizela-Mandela’s presence, will give evidence on the first day of the hearing. He will respond to Madikizela-Mandela’s claim that he never approached her about the whereabouts of his son.

Sono maintains that he last saw his son inside Madikizela-Mandela’s minibus after he was abducted by members of the football team.
Madikizela-Mandela is believed to have admitted to the truth commission’s in-camera hearing that she knew Lolo Sono, but she denied his father’s claim that he was in her minibus the last time he saw his son.

Instead, she has told the truth commission that she only met Lolo Sono’s father once. That, according to Madikizela-Mandela, was when he was delivering arms and ammunition to her house.

The victims
Rarely has a scandal encompassed as many allegations of wrongdoing as the one surrounding Winnie Madikizela-Mandela — ranging from murder to fraudulent use of charity funds. But, inevitably, it will be the killings which will be the focus of attention at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

The number of murders with which she has been associated has fluctuated wildly, but it appears that she will be questioned next week about the following killings:

Stompie Seipei: The report of his disappearance and the circumstances surrounding it by The Weekly Mail in 1989 triggered what is now known as the ”Winnie scandal”. Her former henchman, Jerry Richardson, was convicted of murdering Seipei — taking him out into the veld and butchering him with garden shears. But it is alleged he was already dying, after having been beaten up at Madikizela-Mandela’s house, and that she ordered and took part in the assault.

Dr Abu Baker Asvat: The ”people’s doctor” and a friend of Madikizela-Mandela’s, he was shot dead in his surgery as the scandal over Seipei began to break. It is alleged he was killed on Madikizela-Mandela’s orders. He had examined Seipei at her house and found the boy to be dying – and was, therefore, in a position to have her convicted for what was then a capital offence.

Finkie Msomi: A 13-year-old girl shot dead in a revenge attack on a Soweto house, following the murder of a member of the Mandela United Football Club. Madikizela- Mandela is alleged to have ordered the attack.

Kuki Zwane: A young woman from the Transkei found murdered near Orlando railway station on December 18 1988. Her death was a mystery until Richardson recently claimed, during a television interview, that he had killed her as she was a suspected police informer on Madikizela-Mandela’s instructions.

Sicelo Dlomo: A worker with the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee who was shot dead on January 23 1988, shortly after his release from detention. It was assumed he had been murdered by the security forces, but there are now allegations that he was killed on Madikizela-Mandela’s instructions, again as a suspected informer.

Morgan Bambisa: His murder, in 1987, is believed to have been linked to Madikizela- Mandela in an amnesty application.

Susan Maripe: She was shot in her Soweto home in October 1987. Madikizela-Mandela’s name is mentioned in connection with her death in a statement to the truth commission on human-rights violations.

Xola Makhaula and another unnamed person: Makhaula was killed in a shebeen brawl in 1987. A former member of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) has told the commission that Makhaula’s AK-47 was kept at Madikizela- Mandela’s house. Nothing more is known about the cases.

Maxwell Madondo, a member of the Mandela United Football Club, died while trying to kidnap another youth who was accused of being a ”sell-out” — allegedly on Madikizela-Mandela’s instructions.

Two MK guerrillas, Maluleke and Mbenenge and a white police officer, Sergeant Pretorius. All three were killed during a shoot-out at Richardson’s house on November 9 1988. Madikizela-Mandela is alleged to have delivered the two guerrillas to Richardson, who was a police spy. Pretorius is believed to have been Richardson’s police ”handler”.

Lolo Sono and Siboniso Tshabalala: Presumed murdered. They disappeared in November 1988 after allegedly being questioned and assaulted at Madikizela-Mandela’s house on suspicion of having ”sold out” Maluleke and Mbenenge, to the police.

Other incidents which Madikizela-Mandela is expected to be questioned about include: The kidnapping and torture of two brothers, Peter and Philip Makhanda in 1988, allegedly on Madikizela-Mandela’s instructions and in her presence. The brothers were accused of being ”sell-outs”. Peter Makhanda was hanged from a rafter, but survived when the rope broke. He was suffocated with a plastic bag over his head. Finally he had the words ”Viva ANC” carved into his back. Philip Makhanda had a ”M” for Mandela and ”Viva ANC” carved into his chest and a thigh and battery acid was smeared into the cuts.

The attempted murder of Ikaneng Lerothodi in 1989. The youth, allegedly accused by Madikizela-Mandela of having betrayed a comrade to the police, had his throat cut with garden shears by Richardson, but miraculously survived. Various witnesses have claimed Madikizela-Mandela ordered the attack.

The disappearance of Katiza Cebekhulu, a key witness in the Seipei trial. Cebekhulu later materialised in a Lusaka prison and will be testifying next week.

The circumstances leading to the death of Sizwe Sithole in police detention in 1991. Sithole, the father of a child by Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter, Zinzi Mandela-Hlongwane, allegedly hanged himself in police custody with his shoelaces. He had been detained in connection with the possession of firearms and grenades. Cebekhulu has alleged that Winnie supplied the weapons to Sithole and then instructed him (Cebekhulu) to tip off the police.

An assault on a woman, Phumzile Dlamini, who fell pregnant in 1988, allegedly by a boyfriend of Madikizela-Mandela’s.

The accusers
During his divorce action in March last year President Nelson Mandela – irritated by the constant reference to his wife as a victim of apartheid — conceded that Madikizela-Mandela had suffered ”gross persecution” and ”brutal treatment” at the hands of the police. But, he reminded the court, ”there were many women in this country who suffered far more than she did”. He cited Albertina Sisulu as an example.

Sisulu is, in the eyes of many, the woman who really deserved the title ”The Mother of the Nation” which was for so long enjoyed by Madikizela-Mandela. Her standing in the country, as well as her inadvertent involvement in the Madikizela-Mandela scandal, makes her potentially the most devastating witness at next week’s hearings.

Sisulu has never publicly told what she knows about Madikizela-Mandela. It is believed that state prosecutors backed off subpoenaing her in the Seipei case as they knew she would flatly refuse to co-operate with the hated ”system”. But the announcement that she is among the witnesses ”invited to testify” implies she has agreed to speak out at last.

Sisulu’s evidence could be crucial as she worked for Asvat as a nurse and receptionist. She should be able to resolve the dispute over the date on which Madikizela-Mandela visited Asvat’s surgery, a detail crucial to Madikizela-Mandela’s alibi in the Seipei case.

She may be able to disclose confidences which Asvat shared with her about Madikizela-Mandela and Seipei. And she may be able to throw fresh light on the circumstances in which Asvat was murdered — whether it was a robbery as claimed by the police, or a contract killing as claimed by one of the murderers. At one stage a ”hit list” was allegedly found at Madikizela- Mandela’s house which included the names of two of Sisulu’s nephews.

Like Sisulu, the Winnie Mandela Crisis Committee has previously been uncooperative with the authorities, but its members have now agreed to tell all. They include Dr Frank Chikane, Dr Bishop Manas Buthelezi, Dr Nthato Motlana and Azhar Cachalia.

Other reputable witnesses who could have an impact on the hearing include the likes of Nichodemus Sono, who is expected to tell the story of how he pleaded with Madikizela-Mandela for his son, Lolo, when she brought the boy to his house in the back of a mini-bus. Madikizela-Mandela, who said the boy was a ”sell-out”, allegedly refused to let Sono speak to Lolo. The boy appeared to have been badly beaten up. Sono never saw his son again.

And then there is the string of former accomplices who have turned on Madikizela- Mandela. Some will be brought from prison cells to testify, like Richardson who is expected to accuse her of ordering other murders in addition to that of Seipei.

Richardson is serving life for the murder of Seipei. Madikizela-Mandela’s co-accused in the Seipei trial, Xoliswa Falati and John Morgan, are expected to repudiate their original testimony supporting her alibi. Even Pelo Mekgwe, one of the youths kidnapped from the Methodist manse along with Seipei — whom Madikizela-Mandela paraded at a recent press conference among a group of witnesses she claimed would clear her name — is expected to turn on her.

Forty-three potential witnesses have been subpoenaed, invited to testify or asked to be on standby. It is a formidable line-up she faces. But it is not for nothing that she is known as South Africa’s ”great survivor”.

The defence
The crux of Madikizela-Mandela’s defence against the allegations is that she was the victim of a smear campaign by the apartheid security forces. In support of that contention she is likely to rely heavily on testimony from former security policeman Paul Erasmus. Erasmus, who was named as an operative by the Mail & Guardian in 1995, worked for the Witwatersrand branch of Stratcom, a unit specialising in dirty tricks and intelligence gathering.

In his confessions to the M&G, Erasmus said that Madikizela-Mandela was a target of Stratcom. Madikizela-Mandela latched on to this and has since seemingly become friendly with him. During Mandela’s divorce action last year, Madikizela-Mandela tried to introduce Erasmus as a witness to prove that her marriage had been deliberately undermined by the police. The move was rejected by the court after the president threatened to ”reveal facts which might damage her image and bring a great deal of pain to my children and grandchildren”.

Erasmus has never tried to claim — in public, at least — that Stratcom concocted the more serious allegations against Madikizela-Mandela. Instead, they appear to have tried to exploit the scandal to feed the media and other opinion-makers, throwing in the occasional embellishment to help it on its way.

As Erasmus told the M&G, Stratcom’s tactic was to base its black propaganda operations on 70% fact and 30% fiction. ”You create a perception. Even when some of it can be disproved, since some of it is true, people think all of it is true.” Some of the embellishments Erasmus has cited have been allegations that Madikizela-Mandela was an alcoholic and took drugs.

The cover-up
Political scandals since the time of Watergate tend to boil down to the question as to whether there was a cover-up, and the ”Winnie scandal” is no exception. Hanging over next week’s hearings is the question as to whether police obstructed the course of justice.

The M&G put a series of questions to National Commissioner George Fivaz’s office this week about the conduct of the police in relation to Madikizela-Mandela. However, they refused to answer them ”owing to the fact that Madikizela-Mandela is due to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission”.

There are, without doubt, some curious aspects about police handling of Madikizela-Mandela — some so curious that the theory has been floated that she was herself in the pay of the security forces and was being protected as such.

One striking facet of police conduct was their failure to question her in instances where there was prime facie evidence of her involvement in crimes. In November 1988, for example, two guerrillas were killed in a shoot-out with police at Richardson’s home. At the subsequent inquest, Richardson — who it is now known was a police agent – testified that Madikizela-Mandela brought them to his house. However, the police did not try to take a statement from her.

A similar example arose from an attack by members of the Mandela United Football Club on the home of Dudu Chili during which 13-year-old Finkie Msomi was killed. At the subsequent trial the judge accepted a defence statement implicating Madikizela-Mandela in the planning of the attack. Again she was apparently never questioned.

Other questions which the M&G wanted to put to Fivaz include:

  • Why has no action been taken as a result of public admissions by Falati and Morgan that they deliberately perjured themselves in supporting Madikizela-Mandela’s alibi during the Seipei trial?
  • Why was the original statement implicating Madikizela-Mandela by Nicholas Dlamini, one of the two men convicted of murdering Asvat, never presented in court?
  • Why was Richardson paid R10 000 by the police while serving a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Seipei? Police say the money was for information Richardson provided which led to the killing of the two ANC guerrillas during the shoot-out at his house. But justification for such a payment to an informant who — presumably unknown to the police – was busy killing people on the side must be debatable.
  • Did Senior Superintendent (then captain) Fred Dempsey, the investigating officer in the Seipei case, hand key witness Cebekhulu over to Madikizela-Mandela when he captured him in January 1991? The claim is made by Cebekhulu in the Fred Bridgland book, Katiza’s Journey.

The three police officers who headed the Madikizela-Mandela investigations – Dempsey, Henk Heslinga and HT Moodley — have all since been promoted. They have repeatedly said that they did everything they could and that no pressure was put on them to hold back prosecutions against her.

Police justify the failure to disclose the Dlamini statement on the grounds that it was unreliable, because it was obtained under undue pressure and that it would have weakened the case against his co-accused, Cyril Mbatha.

They justify the payment of the R10 000 pay-out to Richardson in prison on the grounds that they were honour-bound to reward him as a registered informer. Failure to pay him earlier was due to the death of his handler, who was killed in the November 1988 shoot-out.

Police say there was a sensitivity in the force to Madikizela-Mandela.In about 1988 orders were issued to the security branch not to raid her home, or question her, without clearance from regional headquarters because of the likely reaction of the local and foreign media.

”If I could have got her prosecuted for the Asvat murder I would have been the most famous policeman in South Africa,” said one officer who remains convinced the murder of the doctor was motivated purely by robbery. ”It’s absurd to think we would have protected her.”

The former Witwatersrand attorney general, Klaus von Lieres und Wilkau, said: ”I never cut deals. The decision I took was based on the facts. We decided not to charge her with murder, because there was no reasonable prospect of succeeding with a prosecution.”

 

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Wally Mbhele
Guest Author

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