Winnie Mandela is one of the most iconic figures in South Africa. She was the backbone of the African National Congress Women’s League for many years, a former wife of charismatic President Nelson Mandela and also known by her supporters as ‘the mother of the nation’ because of her relationship with under-developed and poor communities. There are many sectors of the community where Winnie Mandela can do no wrong. There are geographical landmarks and streets that are named after this historical figure in the backdrop of South African politics.
On Wednesday 12 March 2013, the can of worms that is the Mandela United Football Club was opened yet again. Sky News reported that the bodies of two young men believed to be those who disappeared in the late eighties were exhumed in Avalon Cemetery near Soweto.
No South African who heard the story of James ‘Stompie’ Seipei can ever forget it. Winnie Mandela and her band of bodyguards who doubled as members of the Mandela United Football Club where accused in the murder of 14 year old ‘Stompie’ and the disappearance of numerous other young men. The families and friends of the missing men said that the men where last seen in the company of Mandela and the football team. Community members told of stories about how the football club had terrorized community members for years when looking for people they thought were spies for the apartheid government.
Winnie Mandela denied any participation in the ‘Stompie’ murder and dismissed all allegations that she was involved in other murders as ‘rubbish’. In the late eighties, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard that Jerry Richardson, Winnie Mandela’s bodyguard and important figure in the Mandela United Football Club, had “slaughtered him (Stompie) like a goat”. He said that he had killed ‘Stompie’ under the instructions of ‘Mummy’, a name they used for Winnie Mandela.
The exhumation of Lolo Sono, 21, and Siboniso Tshabalala, 19, brought relief to their families who say they knew who was responsible for the disappearance of their children but did not know where their bodies lay.
This time the investigation is headed by the Hawks. It will be interesting to see if the public can expect the same level of incompetence and administrative mismanagement of the case. The last time Winnie Mandela had to explain her role in the murders and disappearances of young men under her instructions, dockets and other important evidence seemed to constantly disappear without a trace.