As debate continues over Stompie's role in Winnie's legacy, what did the courts actually say?

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Picture: Gallo
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Picture: Gallo

Vilified by some, while others proudly proclaim her as a hero, struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's role in the disappearance of a group of youths in 1988 has remained a sticking point for her detractors.

Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of kidnapping activist Stompie Seipei and three others in 1988, but her sentence was later overturned from six years in prison to a suspended sentence, a fine and damages to be paid to the other victims.

Despite this, there are still those who associate her and her legacy with the teenager's murder.

During her memorial service at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg on Wednesday, ANC secretary general Jessie Duarte condemned Madikizela-Mandela's critics for having "unforgiving hearts".

"Sit down and shut up. This is our hero. This is our heroine. She gave everything to us," she said.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula also criticised Madikizela-Mandela's detractors who she said wanted to "create a particular impression about her and narrative about her".

No links to other murders

"I am not happy about it and I don't think it is something we should entertain," she said.

But former police brigadier Henk Heslinga, who was a member of the Soweto murder and robbery unit and investigated Madikizela-Mandela's role in the disappearance of Seipei, believed she should have been investigated for a number of other murders as well.

"We were never able to find the evidence. I'm not saying the evidence isn't there, but we could never find the evidence to link her to [the other murders]," he said.

Heslinga was quoted in a documentary on Madikizela-Mandela, Winnie, which screened on Wednesday night as saying that he believed there was "some political motivation" in efforts to link her to the murder of Seipei and other activists.

"We must start from Stompie Seipei and right through and try to get evidence that Winnie can be charged for murder," Heslinga said in the documentary.

Heslinga said he thought "there was some political motivation" behind the request by then police minister Sydney Mufamadi to investigate Madikizela-Mandela at a later stage.

Seipei's 'condition was bad'

"So we started this whole investigation. We went to Jerry Richardson, he was serving a life sentence for the killing of Stompie Seipei. And then he told me that Stompie found out he was a registered informer of the security branch in Soweto," Heslinga said.

"So he killed Stompie Seipei to cover his own tracks. And Winnie Mandela must never find out he was a registered informer. The minister gave us carte blanche, money wise, logistics wise, and we can travel through the world where we need to go."

Following her death last week Monday, there had been attempts by Madikizela-Mandela's critics to rewrite the story of her involvement in the murder of Seipei, despite Richardson being convicted for his murder.

In 1993, Madikizela-Mandela and two others appealed their conviction and sentences in the kidnapping and assault of Seipei and three others.

Judge Michael Corbett, who heard the appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, wrote in his judgment that Seipei's "condition was bad" and that "he did not talk" following Richardson's assault on Seipei and others.

"The following day Richardson told them about 'the rules of the house' and warned them about trying to run away. He said the position of [the other three] was different from that of [Seipei] who had done something that was 'very, very wrong' and who would eventually have to be 'dumped' (meaning that he 'had not long to live')," Corbett wrote.

Kidnapping 'a serious offence'

"On Sunday 1 January 1989 [Seipei] was taken away by Richardson. That was the last that [the others] saw of him," Corbett wrote.

Richardson was later convicted for the murder, after he had used garden shears to stab Seipei in the neck.

In his judgment, Corbett wrote: "Kidnapping is always a serious offence since it involves deprivation of liberty, particularly freedom of movement, freedom to be where one wants to be, [and] freedom to do as one wishes."

He said the degree of seriousness depended on the period of detention, the conditions of detention and the general circumstances.

"In the present case the periods of detention varied from about 2 days [for Seipei] to about two weeks [for the other victims]," he wrote.

Corbett found that Madikizela-Mandela was not an accessory to the assault of Seipei and the others, and overturned that conviction, but the conviction for her role on their kidnapping remained. Instead, her sentence of six years was overturned to a suspended sentence, a fine of R15 000 and damages of R5 000 being paid to each of the victims.

In his judgment, Corbett said it was after "careful and anxious consideration" that he reached his conclusion and found Madikizela-Mandela had not been involved in the assault of the kidnapped victims.

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