In an unprecedented move, South Africa's largest anti-apartheid coalition renounced black activist Winnie Mandela on Thursday, saying she had abused the trust of the country's black majority and "violated the spirit and ethos" of their struggle against white-minority rule.
The action by the 2-million-member United Democratic Front marked the first public denunciation of Winnie Mandela by the national movement that for three decades has looked to her husband, imprisoned nationalist Nelson R. Mandela, as its leader.
Murphy Morobe, the UDF's acting publicity secretary, accused Winnie Mandela of "violating human rights . . . in the name of the struggle against apartheid." In a prepared statement, he said anti-apartheid groups throughout the country were particularly "outraged by the reign of terror" of her bodyguards, known as the Mandela United soccer club.
He urged blacks to distance themselves from Winnie Mandela, who he said had "abused the trust and confidence she has enjoyed over the years."
The public reprimand, which Morobe described as "a very sensitive and painful matter," indicated a growing concern among anti-apartheid leaders that her actions have marred the reputation of the liberation movement. The statement would not have been issued without the tacit approval of the African National Congress and, perhaps, Nelson Mandela himself.
The South African police are investigating Winnie Mandela and her young security force in the kidnaping and murder of Stompie Mokhetsi Seipie, a 14-year-old black activist.
Police say Mandela soccer club members abducted Seipie and three other young men last Dec. 29 at a Methodist church house in Soweto. The survivors say they were held and beaten at Winnie Mandela's house.
"Not only is Mrs. Mandela associated with the team--in fact the team is her own creation," Morobe said. "We are outraged at Mrs. Mandela's complicity. Had Stompie and his three colleagues not been abducted by Mrs. Mandela's team, he would be alive today."
Winnie Mandela has steadfastly refused to disband the team, ignoring pleas from anti-apartheid activists and, reportedly, orders from her husband and leaders of his exiled guerrilla group, the African National Congress.
"She won't listen to anybody. People try to talk to her, but it's just no use," a senior anti-apartheid activist in Soweto said in an interview earlier this week. "She is destroying our movement." Like many others in Soweto, the activist asked not to be identified, fearing reprisals by the soccer team.
Declines to Comment
Winnie Mandela declined to comment Thursday. She has contended that her young bodyguards took the four men to protect them from being sexually abused by a pastor. Church officials deny the allegation.
Morobe was joined at his news conference by leading figures in the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 750 anti-apartheid groups that has been banned by the government, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country's largest black labor federation.
Morobe stressed the organization's "unqualified support for our leader, Nelson Mandela," and he noted the Mandela family's "very special position in the hearts of our people." He also paid tribute to Winnie Mandela's contributions to the struggle against apartheid. But he said that in recent years she had, "on every occasion, disregarded the sentiments of the community."
Although well known here and abroad for her anti-apartheid activities, and often respectfully called "the mother of the nation," Winnie Mandela, 54, has come under increasing criticism for activities that anti-apartheid leaders believe have cast the liberation movement in a bad light.
A young social worker when she married Nelson Mandela in 1958, Winnie Mandela was quickly forced into the public eye by her husband's supporters.
Her husband spent much of the early years of her marriage in hiding and the last 27 years in prison, convicted of sabotage. Winnie Mandela raised their two daughters alone and boldly challenged the authority of the white government. She endured house arrests, detentions in solitary confinement, and, in the early 1980s, banishment to a rural village.
A Loose Cannon
But she has had a reputation as a loose cannon since 1985, when she told a crowd: "With our necklaces and matches we will liberate our country."
Her remarks embarrassed the ANC, the primary guerrilla group fighting Pretoria, which had been trying to distance itself from the grisly practice of "necklacing," in which township mobs executed blacks suspected of collaborating with the government by placing gasoline-soaked tires around their necks and setting them alight.
The government still replays videotape of those comments to discredit the ANC.
Two years ago, with the proceeds of her autobiography, "Part of My Soul Went With Him," she built a $250,000 home in the "Beverly Hills" section of Soweto. The display of such wealth concerned anti-apartheid leaders and the house remains vacant.
Then, last year, she made an agreement with a black American public relations man to allow the Mandela name to be used for commercial ventures. Once again, under pressure, she abandoned plans to franchise the family name.
It has been her soccer team, though, that has created the deepest rift between Winnie Mandela and anti-apartheid leaders. The team, which lives in her home in another part of Soweto, has been accused of several assaults in recent years and its actions have touched off sometimes violent disputes in the community.