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Saturday, April 26, 2003  

My opinion: No jail time for Winnie Mandela

The New York Times has the latest developmentin the travails of Winnie Mandela.

JOHANNESBURG, April 25 — Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela, was sentenced today to four years in prison on dozens of counts of theft and fraud.

On Thursday, Ms. Madikizela-Mandela, one of the most powerful leaders in the fight against apartheid, was convicted for her part in a scheme to steal more than $100,000 from false bank loans and funeral policies.

Many of the loans had been granted to poor people, who would not have qualified without signed letters from Ms. Madikizela-Mandela. In sentencing today, however, the judge, Peet Johnson, made clear that she also profited from the deals.

Ms. Mandela has long been one of my heroines. Married to Nelson Mandela when barely out of her teens, she rarely lived with him during his few years of comparative freedom, when he was being sought by the murderous apartheid era police. During his 27 years of punishment, she became the focus of much of the brutality of the South African apartheid government. She was arrested too many times to keep track of and inprisoned for varying periods under the state's terrorism provisions. In the 1970s, Ms. Mandela and her two small daughters were vanished to a rural area with little more than the clothes on their backs. When they managed to build a makeshift house, it was burned down. Still she managed to create a life for her family there.

Nor were Ms. Mandela's tormentors always "the Boers," as she would say. Some leaders of the anti-apartheid movement considered her as not knowing a woman's place and plotted her downfall. The legalization of the ANC did not end her troubles. She barely escaped being sent to prison for a kidnapping and murder carried out by associates in 1991.

Ms. Mandela's life has been a continuing series of attempted degradations and stunning recoveries. She is still proud and beautiful at 66. We are now told Ms. Mandela should be treated like a common criminal, not the Mother of the Nation. I say, "No." She has already more than paid her dues, spending more time behind bars than rapists and murderers when she had committed no crimes whatsover.

Meanwhile, most of the people responsible for the enormous suffering of the South African citizenry escaped any meaningful justice. To this day, they still meet at their all-white clubs to complain about the 'Communists' who now rule South Africa, while calling the servers "boy" and "kaffir."

A backer of Ms. Mandela puts her situation in perspective.

"If you understand her history and her background and what she went through, and the impact of the (anti-apartheid) struggle on her, you might understand some of things she ended up doing. It was not because she wanted to, but the circumstances at the time. It was for her survival," one supporter told allAfrica.com.

It is well known that trauma impairs people's reasoning skills and impacts their personalities. A single incidence of trauma, such as an assault or rape, or even witnessing stressful events, can result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ms. Mandela's life as been a secession of traumatic events.

My views are not shared by all. McGehee of Blogosferics, a far Right blogger who wonders why he lost his job in mainstream journalism if I remember correctly, suspects Ms. Mandela of witchcraft.

Then there was that witch cult in Africa fairly recently -- was it Winnie Mandela? -- where a special kind of shirt was supposed to make people invulnerable to bullets.

Let's hope the Washington Times doesn't realize he is available.

Another reactionary blogger takes it farther, echoing lies from the supporters of apartheid.

  Winnie Mandela as a Human Shield in Iraq?

Would this be the same Winnie Mandela, former wife of Nelson "How to be a Good Communist ” Mandela, who had three teenagers tortured to death?

Mike Hanson of The Razor's Edge is one dull blade.

It is against a similar background of resentment apartheid ever ended that Ms. Mandela's appeal will be heard. Most of the judicial officials in South Africa are left over from the apartheid era. Some see nothing wrong with having served those governments. I hope someone will have the spine and moral clarity required to reduce the sentence if not overturn the verdict. However, I have little faith in the justice system in South Africa.

10:37 PM