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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Found Guilty of Theft, Fraud - 2003-04-24

Controversial South African politician Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has been found guilty on dozens of charges of theft and fraud.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was convicted on 43 charges of fraud and 25 of theft, totaling $120,000. Her financial adviser and co-accused, Addy Moolman, was convicted on 58 charges of fraud and 25 of theft.

Magistrate Peet Johnson said Madikizela-Mandela had lied to the court and that her evidence that she had not known about the fraud was totally improbable. He also said there was overwhelming evidence against her.

According to the fraud charges, Madikizela-Mandela and Moolman supplied false letters of employment to a bank in support of loan applications. The letters, on the official stationary of the African National Congress Women's League, were signed by Madikizela-Mandela in her capacity as president of the league.

She and Moolman were convicted of theft because they took money from the loan applicants that was meant to pay for contributions to a funeral insurance plan.

The convictions will add to Madikizela-Mandela's legal woes. She also has launched a court application to prevent parliament from publicly censuring her for failing to disclose substantial gifts and business interests, an annual requirement for all legislators.

Meanwhile, parliament is investigating her attendance record in the house. Last year, she was present on only four days, and she has failed to account for 67 of the days she was absent.

The ruling African National Congress, of which she is a member, is also reported to be investigating her for absences from party executive meetings, her leadership of the Women's League and for her work performance.

Madikizela-Mandela rose to political prominence during the 1960's treason trial of her then-husband, Nelson Mandela. During his years in prison, she became his public face and voice and, as a result, was first imprisoned and later banished to Brandfort, a tiny town five hours from Johannesburg.

Her good works among the poor won her considerable popular support, which eventually led to her being dubbed the mother of the nation.

But when she returned to Soweto in the late 1980s, she became embroiled in one scandal after another, leading to her conviction in the 1989 assault and kidnapping of a 13-year-old activist, who was later found murdered. Her six-year sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.

Even though he stood resolutely by her during the trial, Mr. Mandela divorced her in 1995, saying that, since his release from prison in 1990, he had become the loneliest man in the world.

Madikizela-Mandela was the subject of a 1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing, which heard how she and her bodyguards had terrorized Sowetans in the waning years of apartheid. Victim after victim testified to torture and other ill-treatment, while several others testified that their loved ones went missing after being with Madikizela-Mandela and members of her bodyguard.

Madikizela-Mandela remains popular with the poor in some areas, but political leaders in South Africa no longer treat her with the deference and respect she once commanded.