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Winnie Mandela's Lawyer Accuses Co-Defendant of False Testimony - 2003-03-05

The fraud trial of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, perhaps the most controversial politician in South Africa, is continuing in Pretoria. On Wednesday the court heard the testimony of the man who is on trial with Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's lawyer told Addy Moolman, her co-accused, that he is an unstinting liar and that his testimony, which implicated Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela in a plot to defraud a bank, was false.

The two are charged with 60 counts of fraud and 25 of theft in an alleged scam in which a bank was defrauded of about $120,000. Investigators say the two submitted fraudulent documents to secure 85 loans and that more than half the proceeds of the alleged scam were deposited into Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela's personal bank account.

Mr. Moolman told the court that he and Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela discussed most of the applications and that her signature appears on letters supporting the loan applications. A handwriting expert hired by her lawyer testified that about half the signatures were not made by her.

Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela is no stranger to the courtroom and controversy. In 1991 she was convicted of kidnapping and assault. She ultimately paid a fine.

She was also the subject of a 1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing which, over a three-week period, heard allegations of how she and her bodyguards had terrorized the people of Soweto township in the waning years of apartheid. Victim after victim testified to torture and other ill-treatment while several more testified that their loved ones disappeared after being with Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela and her bodyguards.

But Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela, who is divorced from former South African President Nelson Mandela, remains popular with the poor in some areas and is president of the woman's league of the African National Congress, the leading party in South Africa. She is a member of parliament but was last year severely reprimanded and docked 15 days pay for contravening the legislature's code of conduct. She is the only member of parliament to be censured in this way since 1994.

Political leaders in South Africa no longer treat her with the deference and respect she commanded in the past and she is no longer singled out as a special participant at either ruling party or national events.

Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against her. If found guilty she could be sentenced to 15 years in jail.