Truth, Lies and Alibis: A Winnie Mandela Story

Published on 9th October 2018

Author: Fred Bridgland

Publisher: Tafelberg

Year of publication: 2018

Reviewer: Sam Ditshego 

"True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, and above all, a consuming love for one's people," Robert Sobukwe, PAC founding President.

This book is about the ruling elite’s unfettered power locally and internationally, abuse of power, poor leadership, manipulation of the judiciary and the police and it proves clearly that some people are more equal than others. Pronouncements that there is adherence to the constitution are a charade and a façade. Everywhere in the world there are laws for the rich and powerful and laws for the poor and downtrodden.

This is about a sad and harrowing tale of the torture and murder of defenceless and innocent teenagers for the sheer fun of it. It is about a person who was out of control in the name of the struggle for liberation who had become judge, jury and executioner and a law unto herself. This is about the murders of 14 year old Stompie Moeketsi, Dr Abu Baker Asvat, Lolo Sono, Siboniso Tshabalala and many others. It is about the kidnapping and torture of Kenny Kgase, Thabiso Mono, Pelo Mekgwe and Katiza Cebekhulu. Cebekhulu was kidnapped and jailed at the behest of Nelson Mandela under appalling conditions in a country where he committed no crime.

Members of the judiciary and law enforcement officers should read this book and learn how states can be corrupt and strive to dispense justice and uphold the rule of law. Chief Justice Mogoeng, his former Deputy Dikgang Moseneke and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela have always held Nelson Mandela in high esteem and an as an exemplary leader. After reading this book, one wonders if they would still regard Mandela as an exemplary leader.

Winnie Mandela and her Mandela football club literally terrorised communities in Soweto and got away with it  because the apartheid authorities thought that jailing her would jeopardise the secret talks they were going to hold with Nelson Mandela and the ANC.

Nelson Mandela intervened on behalf of Winnie Mandela to influence the outcome of his former wife’s criminal case. He requested then President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda to keep a key witness Katiza Cebekhulu in jail until the case was over. Cebekhulu was abducted by ANC security spirited out of the country. He was taken to Mozambique via Swaziland and flown to Angola without a passport. And finally flown to Zambia where he was locked up and spent almost three years in a Zambian jail when he had committed no crime in Zambia.

Kaunda admitted that he was requested by Nelson Mandela to keep Cebekhulu in jail. Cebekhulu suffered; he could not bath because there was no running water coupled with lack of proper food. He contracted diseases and became emaciated. He told Bridgland that he felt that Nelson Mandela and Kaunda wanted him to die in jail.

Bridgland was a foreign correspondent in South Africa for London’s Sunday Telegraph from 1991 until the 2000’s. As a foreign correspondent in South Africa, he became aware of Stompie Moeketsi’s murder in which Winnie Mandela and her notorious Mandela Football Club were implicated.

An article on Cebekhulu by Barney Mthombothi who was with the Johannesburg Star newspaper at the time led Bridgland to Zambia to get Cebekhulu’s story. Kaunda’s United Independence Party (UNIP) lost the elections to Frederick Chiluba’s Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). With his connection to British MP Emma Nicholson who was observing elections in Zambia, Bridgland got in touch with MMD leader Frederick Chiluba. After winning elections, Chiluba gave a call to Nicolson. He promised her he would invite her.

Nicholson asked Bridgland if there was anything that he wanted her to raise with Chiluba. Bridgland told her to ask Chiluba to find Cebekhulu in Zambia’s prison system which she did. Nicholson had never heard of Cebekhulu. Bridgland described to her fully the Stompie-Winnie saga, Cebekhulu’s mysterious disappearance on the second day of Mrs Mandela’s trial, and Barney Mthombothi’s report that he had spotted him in Lusaka Central Prison.

Bridgland writes that Nicholson asked the new President whether he would investigate the fate of an “invisible political prisoner” – Cebekhulu – who, she had learned, had been jailed by Kaunda. Chiluba at first did not believe Zambia had political prisoners from other countries, but said he would investigate and contact Nicholson immediately if he discovered anything.

Chiluba phoned Nicholson the same day and told her to return to the office immediately, “I’ve found your man.” “You’ve got to come and listen to what he’s got to say.” Cebekhulu was ushered into Chiluba’s office by the Director of Prisons. Over a period of two hours Cebekhulu described to Chiluba how he had watched Winnie Mandela stab to death Stompie Moeketsi behind her Soweto house and how he (Cebekhulu) had been kidnapped by an ANC team from Mrs Mandela’s ANC office in central Johannesburg. Cebekhulu told Chiluba that Mrs Mandela told him that she had decided to send him to Swaziland to be educated and promised her money, a house and a car.

“Chiluba was incredulous. He ordered his aides to search state documents and they discovered what seemed to be the startling truth behind the story of Cebekhulu’s abduction from South Africa and his imprisonment. Official papers suggested that the mastermind behind Cebekhulu’s kidnap was Nelson Mandela. Chiluba said it was clear from the records that Kenneth Kaunda had acted in the belief that Mr Mandela had authorised Cebekhulu’s kidnap in Johannesburg and his transportation to Zambia”, Bridgland wrote.

The safety and wellbeing of these young men, in the eyes of Nelson Mandela, were less important than the criminal activities of Winnie Mandela. Nelson Mandela also called the International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) in Europe and asked them, “Why are you refusing to defend my wife”?  

It was not only Nelson Mandela who intervened to subvert the justice system. The apartheid era Minister of Law and Order and Prisons Adriaan Vlok, Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee, the entire National Party cabinet, head of South Africa’s spy agency Neil Barnard and Britain’s ambassador to South Africa at the time Robin Renwick influenced the judiciary to bungle Winnie Mandela criminal case. Renwick, who had had liased closely with Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk during the secret negotiations of the 1980’s and 1990’s, visited Chief Justice Michael Corbett in Bloemfontein and told him while Winnie Mandela might be found guilty in her Stompie trial. Nelson Mandela would not be able to cope if his wife went to prison. Renwick went on to say that Kobie Coetsee was delivering a similar message to the judiciary.

Winnie Mandela initially escaped conviction because of a false alibi and missing witnesses. But during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, her alibi was proved to have been false and she should have been criminally charged. However, the National Prosecuting authority balked until her death.

The City of Johannesburg recently granted her the Freedom of the City. The City of Johannesburg also wants to name William Nichol Avenue after her. There is a political party that lobbied for Cape Town International Airport to be named after her. They must read this book and tell the world if such a person deserves such an honour.

The people of South Africa do not deserve a judiciary that is malleable and pliable where lip service is paid to the rule of law. We have jumped from the apartheid government’s frying pan into the ANC government’s fire. The way the judiciary treated Mike Stainbank’s rights to the Apartheid Museum’s trade mark shows the judiciary has not transformed. Bridgland can write a good book about how the post-apartheid judiciary is beholden to some white supremacist regarding Stainbank’s case which also involves Mandela’s shady deals.

The shortcoming of the book is that it did not take into account members of the Pan Africanist Congress and Black Consciousness formations who became victims of Winnie Mandela’s reign of terror.

However, it is a good read, well researched and a book that cannot be put down. 

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