| Winnie Mandela
Pretoria, April 25 (Reuters): A South African court sentenced anti-apartheid heroine Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to five years in jail with one year suspended today, a day after she was convicted on dozens of counts of fraud and theft.
The prosecution had said a jail sentence was appropriate for Madikizela-Mandela, 66, and her co-accused, broker Addy Moolman, but said the court should take her age into consideration.
Madikizela-Mandela immediately resigned from parliament and posts in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), signalling the likely end of a maverick political career for a woman dubbed “the Mother of the Nation” for her fight against apartheid during her former husband Nelson Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment.
But according to a legal provision cited by magistrate Peet Johnson, Madikizela-Mandela was likely to serve less than a year of her sentence in jail for her conviction on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft in connection with a one million rand ($136,986) fraud scheme. State prosecutors said letters bearing Madikizela-Mandela’s signature were used to secure loans for bogus employees of the Women’s League of the ruling ANC, which she heads.
Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyers accused Moolman, bank staff and Women’s League employees of lying about her role in the scheme.
They argued she was duped into participating in a fraud she knew nothing about.
Both were also found guilty of theft charges stemming from allegations that they set up a phoney funeral insurance scheme and then pilfered money from participants’ accounts. “The message has to be sent out that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, no matter who the transgressor,” Johnson said.
Moolman, convicted on 58 counts of fraud and 25 of theft, was sentenced to seven years in jail, two of them suspended. Both were bailed for 10,000 rand ($1,370) pending appeals.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the court, many chanting anti-apartheid slogans in apparent support of Madikizela-Mandela.
Dressed in a beaded headband, white flowered kaftan and traditional bead necklace, Madikizela-Mandela showed no reaction as the sentence was passed. Johnson said Madizela-Mandela was no “modern-day Robin Hood”, and said she appeared to have arranged the fraud to help friends and associates.
He said he recognised her role in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle but that was not enough to get her off.
”Only a fool would underplay the important role you played in our history,” he said.“Somewhere it seems that something went wrong ... You should set the example for all of us.”
Madikizela-Mandela issued a statement immediately after sentence was passed, saying she would resign her seat in parliament, as well as her post as head of the ANC Women's League, National Executive Committee and other posts.
”The ANC is my home. Its ideals are my passion and its endeavours to make South Africa a just society is a cause that I will not relinquish. I will remain a dedicated, committed and loyal member of the ANC,” she said in the statement.
The move appeared to end her political career, although she has defied critics who wrote her off in the past.
”I believe it is responsible to have faith in the justice system that has self-correcting capabilities, which in the fullness of time will confirm my innocence,” she said.
Madikizela-Mandela remains popular among poor black South Africans but her reputation has been tarnished by a series of legal problems. She was detained and put under house arrest by the apartheid administration but has never served a jail term.
The most serious past conviction was in 1991, for kidnapping and being an accessory to assault in connection with the death of a 14-year-old township activist.
Her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.
She has rarely seen eye-to-eye with President Thabo Mbeki, and parliament's ethics committee has been trying in recent months to censure her for failing to declare earnings.