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Winnie Mandela Attempts to Avoid Public Reprimand for Ethics Violations - 2003-04-14

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has gone to court in South Africa in a bid to keep the speaker of parliament from publicly reprimanding her for ethics violations. A parliamentary ethics committee found that she had failed to disclose a significant source of outside income.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the Cape High Court judges decided to reserve judgment in the case - meaning they will consider the evidence and make a decision later.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela launched the court action earlier this month in a bid to keep the speaker of the national parliament from reprimanding her for violating the parliamentary code of conduct. Parliament's ethics committee had recommended the sanction after finding that she failed to disclose some of her financial assets.

Ms. Madikizela-Mandela is a member of parliament for the ruling African National Congress, although she rarely attends the parliamentary sessions. She is also the ex-wife of former President Nelson Mandela, and she heads the ANC Women's League.

The ethics charges stem from a criminal court case, in which she faces fraud and theft charges over her alleged involvement in a bogus loan scheme.

In her bail application for that case, she said she relied on donations of more than $6,000 a month, over and above her salary as a member of parliament.

But Ms. Madikizela-Mandela had failed to declare those donations in her annual financial disclosure. All members of parliament are required to register their financial assets and interests every year, including any additional income.

The parliamentary ethics committee repeatedly invited her to appear before the committee to explain herself. She never did. So last month, the ethics committee recommended that Speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala fine her half a month's salary and issue a public reprimand.

The speaker summoned Ms. Madikizela-Mandela to appear before the National Assembly late last month to be reprimanded. But 24 hours before that was supposed to happen, Ms. Madikizela-Mandela won a reprieve. She convinced a Cape Town judge to gag the speaker, preventing her from issuing the reprimand until the court decides on Ms. Madikizela-Mandela's appeal.

Arguing in the Cape High Court Monday, her lawyers said a public reprimand could affect the outcome of the criminal court case against her. They argue it is illegal in South Africa to make public statements that can prejudice ongoing court proceedings.

But the parliamentary lawyers argue that the ethics charges are not directly related to the criminal case, and would not affect its outcome one way or the other. So, they say, there is no reason to set the ethics committee's recommendation aside.

It is not clear when the court will rule, but the parliamentary-ethics committee members are no doubt hoping to have the matter settled soon. Parliament adjourns for this term on Wednesday, and the lawmakers will not start meeting again until the middle of next month.