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    Winnie Mandela Stirs Strong Reactions in Neighbors

    By Lynne Duke
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, December 6 1997; Page A19

    For $10, visitors can buy a tiny, corked jar of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's dirt. It is not a list of the allegations she faced during just-finished hearings into abuses committed during the apartheid era. It is soil from the ground on which the Mandela family built its home in the Orlando West section of this southern Johannesburg community.

    It is here, at the Winnie Mandela and Family Museum, that the image of the erstwhile "Mother of the Nation" is preserved: Winnie, the international honoree; Winnie, the freedom fighter in fatigues; Winnie, the first-lady-in-waiting, pining for release of the world's most famous political prisoner, her then-husband Nelson Mandela.

    Once, her face was like a mirror in which black South Africans could see their hopes and aspirations. But in the communities surrounding the museum, the Winnie image has shattered into sharp-edged shards that now are weapons in a national debate over her legacy, her integrity, her status as a leader, her future.

    This debate had seethed for several years. But now, after nine days of public allegations against her before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there is no shortage of loud venting about this woman who stirs emotions here like no other.

    "That thing was in the past," says Gift Mbatha, owner of a vegetable stand a few streets away from the Mandela family museum. "We must forgive her."

    "She was supposed to be arrested, not taken to the [truth commission]," said Benji Nhlapo, a friend of Mbatha's. "No, I'll never be on that lady's side, because I know what she did."

    Nhlapo said he recalls vividly how Madikizela-Mandela's bodyguards made the already miserable life of racial separation more difficult for those around them. Her bodyguard squad, known as the Mandela United Football Club, unleashed a reign of terror in her name, targeting comrades in the fight against apartheid, the white minority government's policy of racial separation, and branding them "sellouts."

    So complex are the emotions that Madikizela-Mandela stirs that Maurice Mbele, a hairdresser in her neighborhood, defended her by saying, "Whatever she did, she had a reason." But, he also said that "she didn't tell the truth" to the truth commission.

    "I can still vote for her," said Ditshele Magose, a customer in Padawee's Hair salon. "I don't have a problem. She can still rule."

    "She won't. She won't," said Ana Pike, another hairdresser, saying that the troubles in Madikizela-Mandela's past are so serious that they caused the Mandela's divorce last year. Now, Madikizela-Mandela is seeking high office in the ruling African National Congress in voting later this month. The party's establishment, including her former husband, have been campaigning aggressively to thwart her bid.

    "You must consider why the president left her: because he wouldn't be president if Winnie was still his wife," she said.

    The Mandelas, whose 38-year marriage was interrupted by Nelson's 27 years of political imprisonment, separated in 1992. They divorced last year amid his public accusation that she was unfaithful.

    That event split opinion -- some thought Nelson was right; others thought he had been too harsh on her.

    Now, some see her as a victim yet again. On Thursday, she was publicly grilled in a manner not yet used for perpetrators of the repression designed to keep apartheid in place. No former president or general has been grilled so thoroughly, so publicly -- not Frederik W. de Klerk, the last president in the apartheid system, nor Pieter W. Botha, his predecessor. This strikes many blacks here as an outrage that must be reversed.

    "The way they were harsh on Winnie, they've got to be harsh on everybody," said Magose. "She's not the only person who has done the worst. F.W. de Klerk and P.W. Botha -- they did the worst."

    Madikizela-Mandela demanded the public hearings. The truth panel had wanted only to question her in private.

    De Klerk, hailed as a reformer when he freed Nelson Mandela in 1990 and set the nation on a course toward reform, has denied to the truth commission that he knew of any atrocities committed during apartheid. Botha has called the commission a "circus" and said he will not appear before it.

    When Botha failed to appear today for a hearing to which he had been subpoenaed, truth commission officials went to an attorney general's office to charge him with contempt of court. It turned out, however, that the subpoena was technically deficient -- it did not specify a time for Botha's appearance -- and therefore not binding.

    A new subpoena was issued for Botha to appear Dec. 19. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the truth commission chairman, has repeatedly warned that Botha will be charged if he flouts the law.

    "There is no justice in South Africa," said an elderly woman who lives in Madikizela-Mandela's neighborhood and said she fears retaliation should her name appear in print. "I wouldn't want Winnie to burn down my house." She said that a nearby squatter settlement houses people who "idolize" Madikizela-Mandela and that they would do her bidding.

    The elderly woman said she grieves for Joyce Seipei, whose 14-year-old son, Moketsi "Stompie" Seipei, was beaten and stabbed to death by Madikizela-Mandela's security force over several days in 1988 and 1989. Madikizela-Mandela was convicted for the boy's kidnapping in 1991. He was suspected of a being a police informer.

    During the hearings, Joyce Seipei said she wanted Madikizela-Mandela prosecuted for murder. But as they drew to a close, Seipei walked up to Madikizela-Mandela, extended her hand and kissed her on the cheek.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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