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“An unprincipled liar”: On trial for kidnapping and assault, Winnie Mandela arrives at the Rand Supreme Court, Johannesburg, in 1991 (© TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

At the height of the global campaign for Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island prison, his family home in the Soweto township of Orlando West was mysteriously destroyed by fire. It was July, 1988, just a few weeks after a billion people had tuned in to watch a spectacular gala concert at Wembley, to honour the Madiba’s 70th birthday. The African National Congress was on an inexorable march to power and its king over the water was the world’s favourite cause célèbre. So who could be so cold-blooded and so brazen as to torch his house in broad daylight?

Naturally, suspicion fell on the vindictive white state. After all, it had a long track record of harassing Mandela’s wife Winnie, who lived in the house with her two daughters (and who died last month at the age of 81).

Her previous home at Brandfort — the drab Orange Free State town to which she was exiled for eight years — had also been gutted in a petrol bomb attack. Needless to say, the perpetrators were never found.

To get to the root of this latest outrage, a crisis committee was formed of Soweto’s great and good. But as they soon discovered, the truth was very different from the speculation.

They discovered that, far from being an act of state-sponsored aggression, the attack was carried out by children from a local school — and it had nothing to do with politics. This was a desperate act of self-preservation.

A crowd had gathered around the burning house but not one person tried to douse the flames. Even when the local fire brigade finally turned up, they found they had no water in their tanks and left again. They only returned, tanks replenished, when it was clear nothing of the house could be salvaged.

The reason soon became apparent. To the liberal elite, Winnie may have been a secular saint. In this part of Soweto, she and her henchmen were regarded as pure poison.

For the previous two years, a group of young thugs had exerted a reign of terror from an annexe in the Orlando West house. Ferociously loyal to Mrs Mandela — who they referred to as “Mummy” — they acted as both personal bodyguard and political enforcers.

Soweto — not a single entity but a conglomeration of 27 townships to the south-west of Johannesburg — was in chaos at this time. Its two million residents were living under a state of emergency and the police and security forces were viewed as the enemy. “Civic justice”, the township name for violent vigilantism, was the only law and Winnie was an enthusiastic practitioner.

Her band of toughs was known as the Mandela United Football Club and were kitted out with natty gold track suits (bought with aid money, of course). But there is no record of them ever having played a match. Between 1987 and 1989, they were implicated in more than a dozen murders and many more kidnaps and rapes. Other recorded incidents included throwing grenades into a shebeen, blowing up houses and carving “Viva ANC” into the flesh of two teenagers, then pouring battery acid on the wounds.

Winnie’s participation in these crimes was never proved. But the idea she was not aware of them — or indeed didn’t encourage them — is risible. The football club was her creation and a crucial part of her power base.
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June 8th, 2018
7:06 PM
They are becoming worse. Mandela's thirst is rising again among the ANC and SA is becoming a hell hole. Any white that voluntarily remains is insane.

April 29th, 2018
9:04 AM
It would be good if the eyes of those journalists, currently providing apologist and largely positive obituaries, for Winnie Mandela were to be opened.

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