The generation of freedom fighters was better positioned to tell South Africa’s history than outsiders, says former safety and security minister Sydney Mufamadi, reacting to what he called “absurd” claims that he was behind an investigation aimed at discrediting Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Mufamadi waited until the official days of mourning for the struggle stalwart had come to an end before calling a press conference on Monday to address the documentary, Winnie, which was produced by award winning filmmaker Pascale Lamche and was aired on eNCA last Wednesday.
The documentary exposed how the mother of the nation was “betrayed” by the ANC and her ex-husband, former president, Nelson Mandela.
Mufamadi, who was minister of safety and security from 1994 to 1999, said that it was former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon who was behind the reopening of the investigation into the death of 14-year-old activist Stompie Seipei. Seipei was a member of the Mandela United Football Club, which was established by Madikizela-Mandela as a front for mobilising young people to fight against apartheid.
It was alleged that Madikizela-Mandela had ordered her bodyguard, Jerry Richardson, to kill Seipei. “There was a police investigation into Winnie Madikizela-Mandela before we came into government,” said Mufamadi.
“When we came into government Tony Leon came to the [police] commissioner [George Fivaz] and asked him to reopen the investigation.”
Fivaz confirmed in a recent interview that investigations ordered by him around 1996 could not uncover information linking Madikizela-Mandela to the murder of Seipei.
“There was not a single piece of information that fingered Winnie to say she was responsible, maybe personally responsible, for the murder that she gave instructions for Stompie to be eliminated,” Fivaz said.
Richardson was eventually convicted of Seipei’s murder. Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of kidnapping, and her six-year sentence was replaced with a fine and a suspended sentence on appeal.
In response to allegations that he was behind the investigation, Mufamadi said: “You don’t destroy someone and then nominate them for a national award.”
Former president Jacob Zuma conferred the Order of Luthuli to Madikizela-Mandela in 2016. This order is reserved for South Africans who have made meaningful contributions in areas including the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights, nationbuilding, justice, peace and conflict resolution.
Mufamadi added that Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy was “indivisible from the legacy of the ANC ... It’s our legacy. We will never disown a single element of Comrade Winnie’s legacy. We will explain what needs to be explained in context ... Either Winnie is intrinsically evil or she belongs to a movement that is intrinsically evil.”
Mufamadi hoped that “the correct lessons” would be learnt from this experience.
“When we want to commemorate a legacy that is known and revered for its opposition to injustice we just also use just methods and observe the principles of fairness. South Africans know that we fought for justice. Our freedom did not come cheaply. We must defend it. We must not be misled by people who were opposed to our freedom into thinking that we must act according to what they tell us about us.”
He explained the importance of defending the truth, and keeping people’s legacies alive. In particular, he mentioned Madiba, who was portrayed as betraying Madikizela-Mandela in the documentary.
“We must not forget who those people were. In this documentary I see a Nelson Mandela that is not known to the people of South Africa. I listened to many people who are beginning to forget this prized asset.
“When former US president Bill Clinton was in trouble he asked Nelson Mandela for help. We must not trade that moral authority for 30 shillings. That’s all I wanted to say.”
In a dig aimed at the producers of the Winnie documentary, Mufamadi maintained that the generation of freedom fighters was better positioned to tell South Africa’s history than outsiders.
“The gains of 1994 could perish because we are fighting. Winnie’s generation taught us politics. They gave us listening skills. That’s why we don’t miss out on important messages – like ‘I told the Truth Commission in 1997 that there was no evidence against Winnie’.”
Mufamadi also said that he had no indication that he “was important enough for somebody to ask him to appear on the documentary”.
Lamche, who attended the press conference, later apologised for not including Mufamadi in the documentary but said that she stood by the film.
“I still maintain that those of us who fought for this democracy are the authorities on what happened and why it happened. It is this truth that will safeguard the gains made by our people. This generation is going. We need to feed people the truth,” said Mufamadi.
“If we don’t tell the truth we will tear this country apart.”