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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is Charged with Fraud and Theft - 2001-10-19

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the controversial ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, has been charged with bank fraud and released on bail.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela made a brief appearance in the Special Commercial Crime Court in Pretoria, accompanied by her daughter Zinzi. She was formally charged with fraud and theft, and released on bail of about $540.

Ms. Madikizela-Mandela is due back in court on November 20. She faces 85 counts of fraud and theft involving more than $100,000.

The charges stem from an alleged bank fraud scam involving her co-defendant, broker Addy Moolman. Police say he used her name and letterhead stationary from the African National Congress Women's League, which she heads, to obtain loans for non-existent Women's League employees.

In interviews with a local newspaper, Ms. Madikizela-Mandela has vehemently denied the allegations. She told the City Press she was surprised by the charges, since she was the one who alerted authorities to the scam in the first place.

Ms. Madikizela-Mandela says the court case is part of a campaign to discredit her, spawned by her enemies within the ruling party, the ANC.

For the 27 years Nelson Mandela spent in prison under the apartheid regime, his wife, Winnie, was his public face. She is credited with keeping him at the center of international attention, and she herself was banned and imprisoned by the apartheid government.

To many poor urban blacks, she remains a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle. But despite her popularity, her relations with top ANC leaders have become increasingly hostile in recent years. She has had a long-running public feud with current President Thabo Mbeki.

She accuses the party leadership of forgetting about their roots and becoming a new, rich black elite. She continues to live in the township of Soweto, long after other ANC leaders have left for Johannesburg's more affluent northern suburbs.

The flamboyant 64-year-old is a member of parliament, but she rarely appears in the Cape Town chamber for debates. Political analysts, however, say she rarely misses a Soweto funeral.

The bank fraud case is not Ms. Madikizela-Mandela's first brush with the law. Ten years ago, she was convicted of kidnapping in connection with the killing of a 14-year-old who was beaten to death by her bodyguards.