How ANC shielded Winnie

The book by foreign correspondent Fred Bridgland.
The book by foreign correspondent Fred Bridgland.

The ANC and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) went out of their way to conceal the involvement of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela  in the murder of Moeketsi “Stompie” Seipei – and the murder and torture of other young men, according to sensational new book about to hit the shelves this week.

Truth, Lies and Alibis, written by Fred Bridgland, a foreign correspondent who worked in South Africa for London’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper in 1989, the year Seipei was killed, is set to reignite the furious debate around Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy that erupted when she died in April at the age of 81.

In the book, Bridgland alleges that the ANC and the NPA  threatened the families of slain ANC couriers Lolo Sono (21) and Siboniso Tshabalala (19) against speaking out about the murders ahead of the party’s Mangaung elective conference after their bodies were traced to a pauper’s grave in a corner of Avalon Cemetery in Soweto.

The two were murdered, allegedly on Madikizela-Mandela’s orders, by Jerry Richardson, the head of her Mandela United Football Club, in November 1988 – seven weeks before Seipei was beaten and stabbed to death in her back yard.

In the book, Bridgland also fleshes out how:

Madikizela-Mandela’s doctor, Abu-Baker Asvat, was distressed after examining the critically injured Seipei at her home. After he told her to take the child to the hospital, he went straight to a friend, told him what he’d seen and said he feared for his life.

In an interview with Bridgland, the friend, Reggie Jana, said Asvat told him that, as he examined Seipei, “the boy whispered to him that ‘Mrs Mandela and her men beat me to this pulp’”; Struggle icon Albertina Sisulu, a nurse at Asvat’s practice, later told his brother, Ebrahim, that Madikizela-Mandela gave the order for him to be killed.

Although Madikizela-Mandela threatened Asvat, ordering him to say nothing about what he saw, he secretly reported the matter to the Mandela Crisis Committee, which included now President Cyril Ramaphosa and Sydney Mufamadi, and which was formed to rein in Madikizela-Mandela and her football club.

They did nothing about it.

The police knew that Madikizela-Mandela was not in Brandfort in the Free State as she had claimed as an alibi in court the night Seipei was killed, because they had tapped her phone and her voice featured on the recordings.

However, that evidence was quashed and the tapes were destroyed. 

Read: The assassination of Dr Asvat

Nelson Mandela's involvement

Nelson Mandela arranged with former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda to hold a vital witness, former Mandela Football Club member Katiza Cebekhulu, in a Zambian jail for more than two years so that he could not testify at the murder trial.

Mandela did this, Bridgland writes, by getting then ANC president Oliver Tambo to make the request to Kaunda. 

Mandela and Thabo Mbeki personally pressured the International Defence and Aid Fund to pay for Madikizela-Mandela’s legal representation at the trial, which the organisation had initially resolved not to do because the matter was criminal and not political. This, Bridgland writes, led to the European Commission withdrawing its funding for the vital body that provided finds for the legal defense of activists on trial, and led to its eventual closure. 

Then Chief Justice Michael Corbett was pressured by then justice minister Kobie Coetsee to reduce Madikizela-Mandela’s sentence to a R15 000 fine and no jail time on appeal so that the negotiations to end apartheid would not be derailed.

Bridgland also makes a case for how Madikizela-Mandela was so unhappy with how much donor funding Methodist bishop Paul Verryn was receiving to help young activists at his manse in Soweto, that she formed a “conspiracy” against him. This led to the kidnap of Seipei and the other three youths from the manse. It also led to the murder of Asvat, who refused to write a medical report confirming that Cebekhulu, whom she placed as a honeytrap in Verryn’s home, had been anally raped by the bishop.

For much of the book, Bridgland relies on the research report compiled by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Madikizela-Mandela and her football club. Unlike the commission’s recommendations, this report was never publicly released.

Bridgland spent the past decade working on the book and, in 2012, came across the missing docket police compiled into the deaths of Sono and Tshabalala, which was gathering dust in the NPA’s archives.

The docket from November 1988 had lain untouched and asserted that the bodies of the two, covered in multiple stab wounds, were found the following night and buried without their parents being notified, leaving them to wonder for years whether their children were still alive.

No Police investigation instituted

After the TRC found there was a prima facie case against Madikizela-Mandela for the pair’s disappearance, “there was no police investigation” and “the bodies ... seemed destined never to be found – until 24 years later”, Bridgland writes.

“Now with the revelation of the location of the ‘missing’ docket, NPA senior officials’ first reaction was to appear to move to protect the reputation of the ruling ANC” on the eve of the Mangaung elective conference.

“The biological mothers of the two youths, Dorothy Sono and Nomsa Tshabalala, were told by NPA and ANC officials where their sons’ remains were buried, but they were warned severely to keep silent until the ANC conference had finished,” Bridgland writes.

Sono told Bridgland that she was warned to “keep quiet and would not comment further until after her son’s remains had been exhumed, but added: ‘If I can get the body I will [find closure] because I’ve been wondering, where is my son, where is my son?’”

Tshabalala’s friends told Bridgland she was too terrified by the NPA and the ANC’s warnings to comment.

 Brigland wirtes that about how the ANC disguised Madikizela-Mandela’s complicity  murders of  Sono and Tshabalala by engineering their “burials as casualties of apartheid rather than as victims of one of its own leaders.”  The reburial of  their skeletal remains at a ceremonial funeral  at Wespark Cemetery was held  alongside two youths – Archie Lethoko and Mzwakhe Phatho – who had been killed by the apartheid police in the 1980s. Members of the MKVA marched alongside the coffins of the four youths.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha told the funeral  gathering:”Although they were cowardly slaughtered during the white minority rule their spirit still moves. You [the death youths ] remained resolute in the face of death and died with your boots on.  Today we are able to fully acknowledge your role in the struggle for freedom.”

Tshabalala  mother Nomsa – who had always held Madikizela Mandea responsible for her son’s death- attended the funeral and witnessed  the rewriting of the truth.  Then in her eighties, she was just relieved that her son’s remains had been found and said she did : not have the strength to drag this any longer.”

“I know the truth and I forgive those involved in the ordeal,” she said “The ANC and the NPA had vowed when the missing file on the Sono-Tshabalala murders was found that the bodies would be reburied only after their families had been ‘reintegrated’ into the ANC,” Bridgland writes, adding that most “resisted the pressure”.

The book also sheds light on the soured relationship between Madikizela-Mandela and Sisulu.

Sisulu, who was also a midwife, helped prevent a pregnant and bleeding 24-year-old Madikizela-Mandela from miscarrying daughter Zenani when they were in detention together at Johannesburg’s Old Fort prison.

Winnie furious over Sisulu election 

Bridgland writes that Madikizela-Mandela was so furious that Sisulu was elected as co-president of the United Democratic Front, which was formed while she was in exile in Brandfort, that she would have nothing to do with it when she returned to Soweto.

And while Winnie was a regular guest at Asvat’s home in Lenasia for dinner on Friday nights, Sisulu would refuse to attend “because of Winnie’s presence there”.

Asvat later died in Sisulu’s arms.

When Madikizela-Mandela tried to hug her in front of photographers at the TRC, Sisulu snapped: “Hayi, suka wena.”

The book is dedicated “to those ‘little’ and ‘unimportant’ people who suffered, and those who died, at the hands of the Mandela United Football Club”.

Bridgland writes that the book came about as a result of those “unimportant” people who helped and trusted him with their stories: “This book, despite its title, is more for and about them than about Mrs Mandela, who died as the work was being completed. I also believe that new, young generations need to know and try to understand the full story.” – Staff reporter


What do you make of the revelations in Bridgland’s book? Winnie is not here to defend herself, so should we just let sleeping dogs lie?

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