Mandela Unlikely to End Peace Talks Over Wife's Sentence


The prospect of Winnie Mandela going to jail has increased tensions between her husband and President Frederik W. de Klerk, but Nelson Mandela is unlikely to allow his personal anger to scuttle power-sharing talks, analysts say.

"It all really boils down to how Nelson Mandela will take it," said Robert Shrire, a political scientist at the University of Cape Town. "It is Nelson Mandela the lawyer versus Nelson Mandela the husband. And it'll be interesting to see which side wins."

Although personally upset over his wife's conviction, Mandela has held back from any public attack on the government, earning points from whites and moderate blacks.

Mandela, the deputy president of the African National Congress, says he remains convinced of his wife's innocence and expects her appeal to succeed. But he is urging his supporters to leave the matter to the courts--the same white-dominated courts that sent him to prison for life nearly 30 years ago.

In an editorial Wednesday, the white liberal daily Business Day applauded his reaction as "an admirable demonstration of respect for the due process of law by a man under intense personal pressure."

"The rest of the ANC leadership," the paper added, "should show the same sensitivity and statesmanship."

The trial, the guilty verdicts and the surprisingly stiff prison term--five years for kidnaping and one year for accessory to assault after the fact--have aroused political passions among both black and white South Africans.

The proceedings have reinforced the distrust many blacks have for the system of justice that successive white governments have used for decades against the struggle for black liberation. And even blacks who considered Winnie Mandela guilty found themselves supporting her against charges by the state, their longtime enemy.

"We expected the prison sentence because the government is against the ANC," said Lawrence Dube, a 33-year-old Sowetan who works as a clerk at a law firm. "They have tried by all means to discredit the ANC."

But at the same time, Justice Michael S. Stegmann's verdict, in which he characterized the ANC leader's wife as a liar, has confirmed the negative thoughts that whites have carried for Winnie Mandela, one of the bitterest foes of apartheid. Those whites are more worried than ever about the future if the ANC takes power and she becomes first lady.

"Most whites expected a whitewash and, at the most, a suspended sentence," said Shrire, the political analyst. "The unambiguous findings and harsh sentence will reinforce and exaggerate the seriousness of the charges in their eyes."

ANC leaders' continued support for Winnie Mandela also has damaged the credibility of the ANC among whites, whom the organization has been trying to woo, and among its own members, who are divided over Mandela's guilt.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressed sympathy for Mandela after the verdict, but, like many anti-apartheid leaders, he stopped short of suggesting that the courts had victimized her.

"I actually thought they were going to be talking in terms of a suspended sentence," Tutu said in a television interview Wednesday. He added that Mandela has been "a stalwart in the (liberation) struggle" and described her conviction as "a very sad matter . . . almost tragic."

But the trial has inflamed more militant blacks, for whom Mandela has long been a key leader, and international anti-apartheid organizations, who regard her as a pure example of the struggle against white oppression.

Chris Hani, the chief of staff of the ANC's military wing and a close associate of Mandela, predicted recently that her conviction would touch off mass protests and, in any case, be thrown out once the ANC takes power.

However, the ANC, following Nelson Mandela's lead, now says it will await the outcome of the appeal.

Nelson Mandela has said privately that he considered the trial an attempt by the government to stain him and the ANC, perhaps to gain an advantage over his organization in upcoming negotiations.

Government sources contend, though, that they would have preferred that the matter never come to trial. Having found Nelson Mandela to be "a man we can negotiate with," as one source put it, the government has nothing to gain and much to lose by putting his wife in jail.

Winnie Mandela, 56, is free on 200-rand (about $80) bail. It is now up to Stegmann to decide whether to grant her lawyers permission to appeal. A hearing on the appeal application is expected in about a month, lawyers said Wednesday.

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