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Monday, May 05, 2003  

Winnie Mandela's sentence: Revisited

I have received varying responses in regard to the April 26 entry in which I said I do not believe South African heroine Winnie Madikizela-Mandela should be sentenced to additional jail or prison time after being convicted of bank fraud. The far Right has mocked my piece and wishes Ms. Mandela dead. A fellow liberal blogger sent me material from several newspapers she believes establishes Ms. Mandela is a common criminal or worse. As is often the case, people of color perceive the situation differently.

My friend Prometheus 6 believes Ms. Mandela's troubles occurred because she is uncompromising in her fight for the rights of the poor of South Africa. In an entry titled, "Y'all need to raise up offa Winnie," he states the fact that must be overlooked to demonize Ms. Mandela: She was the liberation movement in South Africa for decades.

I find it grimly amusing that Winnie is said to have "played a role" in ending apartheid in SA. I understand the importance of Nelson, but the fact is that importance is as a symbol of both resistance and reconciliation. Winnie was doing the work on the ground all that time. More than likely SOMEbody would have taken up the role she played had she not been there-our roles are determined by circumstance as much as personal decision. But I feel she deserves more than this, better than this.

Prometheus expands on that theme in a subsequent entry.

Winnie held the movement down while Nelson was being a symbol. She's mad radical, and felt she earned a seat at the table for all her work . . . with which statement I agree.

But they needed Nelson to be the up-front symbol with no competition. on accounta his noble acceptance of the folks what jailed him--a Ghandi/MLK type was the only thing that could keep the Afrikaaners in the country thru the transition. So Winnie had to be shut up, shouted down or discredited.

I recommend reading the rest of his post because I think it lays all the cards on the table.

What do I think about the allegations of torture and murder of numerous people by Winnie Mandela? The same thing I think of the allegations of rape and murder against Bill Clinton. People's enemies make up lies to discredit them. And, if the enemies are much more powerful than they are, those allegations are likely to stay around, though unsubstantiated, for a long time. The Truth and Reconciliation Council found Ms. Mandela responsible for one kidnapping and murder by her thuggish bodyguards. The multifarious other claims of brutality on her part occurred during apartheid and likely involved people paid by the South African security forces to denounce Ms. Mandela. It is interesting that no claims she tortured or murdered anyone have arisen since the end of apartheid.

So, why are some liberals willing to believe that Winnie Mandela is a serial killer, but not that Bill Clinton is a rapist who had Vince Foster murdered? I think it speaks to the bigotry still embedded in the minds of so many white Americans. To them, it 'fits' to accuse an African of horrendous acts, but not a white American leader because . . . he is like them. I don't believe either Mr. Clinton or Ms. Mandela is guilty of the worst things people have said about them.

My major reason for saying Ms. Mandela should not be imprisoned yet again is that she has served so much time for nothing. A rough count based on news reports suggests she has spent at least 12 years in jail or prison at the hands of the South African criminal justice system. Twelve years. If many of the people criticizing Ms. Mandela had to spend 12 days in jail unjustifiedly we would never hear the end of their lamentations about their victimization. Yet, they consider it fine to reimprison a senior citizen who has done more to pay her 'rent' in the world than 1000 of them combined. Longterm South African activist Helen Suzman understands what I am saying.

Veteran liberal politician Helen Suzman said Madikizela-Mandela had suffered enough under the hands of apartheid police forces.

"To a great extent she has paid in advance for anything that she has since done," Suzman told SABC radio.

Ms. Mandela remains unbought and unbossed despite the conviction. According to a recent report, she feels freed by no longer having an official position in the government. People are wondering what the energetic and stubborn woman will do next.

But when questions are put to her about whether she will become a full-time businesswoman and get involved with the private security company her sons-in-law run, Umkhontwe Security, which employs former ANC cadres who can't find jobs, she won't say much.

'Ma Winnie is not a threat to anyone, '"I am not holding any position but it doesn't mean I will turn my attention to business. I haven't decided about that yet," she says.

Nor, as some people were hoping, is she being roundly ostracized.

When she entered the airport at Durban, almost everyone was in awe of her.

Whites and blacks gathered around her giving her support - and these were not people from the squatter camps or the desperately poor that many say have her attention. These were middle-class people who commented that they preferred "a politician with balls [rather] than one without a backbone."

When I read stories in South Africa's press targeted to people of color, that was a common theme. To her constituency she is still 'Ma Winnie.' The story is quite different in the white press. There she is "the mugger of the nation." I get the impression those writers, especially of opinion pieces, have been hoping for her downfall for a long time.

Another reason not to to send Ms. Mandela to prison is that doing so will reopen old wounds and could ignite violence.

While [Peet, the judge] Johnson was handing down sentencing, hundreds of supporters of the "Mother of the Nation" gathered outside the court.

"We are prepared to do anything in our power to ensure that she is not in jail," said Julius Malema, the president of the Congress of South African Students.

"If it means burning the prison she is locked in, so be it," he said.

Supporters in their 30s and 40s were steeped in the brutal politics of Soweto and other ghettoes as youths and I am sure they haven't forgotten the how-tos. Younger black South Africans have grown up with heightened expectations that have rarely been delivered on because most of the country's assets still remain in the hands of the country's white minority. The black majority is still living in poverty that has been reinforced by the AIDS epidemic that has swept the country and its consequences. Sending Ms. Mandela to prison in this volatile context would be like striking a match while sitting on a canister of propane.

7:38 AM