Like the predicament the United States government finds itself in every time it tackles Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the African National Congress also faces a dilemma when it comes to dealing with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Many in the ANC national leadership are calling for her head. But they are having difficulty justifying the demand for disciplinary action as punishment for what they consider her recalcitrant attitude.
Just as the US needs the support of its allies to act against Saddam, an ANC national executive committee member says those whose patience with Madikizela- Mandela has worn thin also need the backing of their allies — the ANC’s branches.
However, the ANC left it too late to consider taking disciplinary action, most observers said this week. Madikizela-Mandela has made it clear that as long as the benefits of democracy remain the privilege of the few and the tributaries of freedom have not flowed to the people in poor areas, her political life is far from over.
The ANC’s disciplinary committee has ruled out summoning Madikizela-Mandela to explain some of her utterances. The committee’s chair, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Kader Asmal, believes the ANC Women’s League president has not violated the ANC constitution.
But, according to an ANC national executive committee member: “She has become a headache. Senior leaders are waiting for a spark. As soon as she steps out of line again, she will start feeling the heat.”
Asmal maintains that Madikizela-Mandela has the constitutional right to criticise the ANC and its leaders. “Disciplinary proceedings cannot be used to silence people. It’s only the activities of the person that should call for discipline. For instance, if you call a person a spy or accuse a member of corruption, then we can have grounds for a disciplinary action,” said Asmal.
The ANC Women’s League still firmly supports Madikizela-Mandela, and is suspicious of the ANC’s motives. “The ANC wants to act against Winnie not because of her human-rights record, but for her outspoken criticism of the government’s inability to deliver houses, thwart crime and test our feelings on the death penalty,” says a senior member.
Her supporters say that instead of disciplining Madikizela-Mandela when allegations of her involvement in human- rights abuses first surfaced years ago, the ANC protected her and used her as a one of its trump cards for winning the 1994 elections.
She became an untouchable. In the words of one of her detractors, Xoliswa Falati, she was made a “demi-god and a cult figure” who came to believe she is above the law.
Sechaba ka’Nkosi reports that Madikizela-Mandela’s bid for the deputy presidency of the ANC may take another blow this weekend when the party’s top structure in the Eastern Cape meets to decide its leadership preferences.
Sources in the ANC say the only reason Madikizela-Mandela has remained in the running in the province is because she was present at the last meeting to discuss nominations, and no one was willing to express lack of support in her presence.
The Eastern Cape is Madikizela-Mandela’s constituency, assigned to her by the ANC’s national executive committee. “They could not tell her to her face that they don’t want her. Instead of discussing the nominations we ended up discussing broad policy issues,” says an East London branch executive member who asked not to be named.