The Winnie Mandela scandal

Many opponents of apartheid are still unwilling to look too closely into what has become known as the “Winnie Mandela affair”. That is a mistake. The episode tells us much about the ANC, its methods, and the prospects for democracy in the new South Africa. To refuse to examine the evidence against Mrs Mandela and her followers amounts to nothing less than a refusal to come to terms with the recent history of the liberation movement. It is the politics of faith rather than facts.

What are the facts? Mrs Mandela has been found guilty of being an “accessory” to kidnapping and assaulting four youths. The court record, agreed by both defence and prosecution, states that “a decision was made by Mrs Winnie Mandela and the ‘Football Club’ to kill” two ex-members of the club, Sibusiso Chili and Lerothodi Ikaneng. The same court record states that Mrs Mandela’s house was used for hiding a murder weapon, that the killers set off from and returned to her house in her car, that her daughter Zinzi was involved in exchanging the murder weapon, and that the killers continued as members of the ‘Football Club” and the household.

Mrs Mandela has consistently lied in court about her whereabouts at key times in the case of Stompie, the 14 year old allegedly murdered by members of her ‘Football Club’. Mrs Mandela slandered an anti-apartheid priest as a “gay child molester”, when in fact he was sheltering terrified young men from her. Outside the court, Mrs Mandela’s supporters held up placards with the slogan, “Homo sex is not in black culture”. The doctor to whom Mrs Mandela took the boys she kidnapped in an attempt to produce physical evidence of abuse provided no such evidence. Instead, he was brutally murdered. The visitors’ book for the last day of his life includes a record of a visit by Jerry Richardson, captain of the ‘Football Club”, and the words, written in red, “Sent by Winnie”.

Despite all protestations to the contrary, Nelson Mandela knew about the abduction of the four youths. It was his intervention from jail, via his lawyer Ismail Ayob, that probably saved the lives of Stompie’s three friends, by making it clear to Mrs Mandela that she had to release her captives. Key witnesses in the Stompie case disappeared, “Sicilian” style. The ANC’s security staff were all trained by the KGB or the Stasi. Outraged Soweto high school students had tried to burn down the Mandela home at Diepkloof Extension after beatings and an alleged rape connected with the ‘football team’.
Those are the facts, as far as they are known to us today. What can we make of them? Firstly, the Stompie case was no isolated incident, but part of a broader pattern.

Secondly, the broader pattern was known about for some time, but nobody in the ANC did anything about it. Thirdly, the people who benefitted from the violence, particularly the violence directed against other groups of the liberation movement such as Azapo (the political successor to Black Consciousness), did nothing to stop it.

The inescapable conclusion from all this is that the top leadership of the ANC hoped to rise to power on the backs of destruction and disruption of other forces by lumpen, impoverished youth. In the mid ‘80s, they sought a short-cut to revolution by way of the “comtotsis” (half “comrade”, half “totsi” or street gangster). That failed, and now the violence of “ungovernability” is being turned against the people themselves by the “hidden hand” of the State.

What now? Winnie and her “boys” are cases for therapy and re-education, not revenge. The best ending to all this would be for the ANC to disband and make way for democratic working-class politics. Unfortunately, that will not happen. Instead, we will see those who rose to international prominence on the backs of the “comtotsi” army take their share of power. They should get on well with De Klerk.

Tom Rigby
Socialist Organiser 521, April 1992