Nicholson's African affair

Share this article

Looking back on it all, three prominent people let themselves down badly in various degrees during those nine tumultuous days - Winnie Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela, now known as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Prize winner; and British politician Emma Nicholson, who had just been elevated to the peerage as Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne.

It was December 1997 and Advocates Steven Kuny and Sanjay Makanjee had Winnie Mandela cornered with a barrage of questions exposing as a lie her alibi in the December 1991 murder of a small boy, 14-year-old Stompie Moeketsi.

The setting was a spartan community hall in a working class eastern suburb of Johannesburg. The occasion was the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing into the reign of terror waged by Mrs Mandela and her Mandela United Football Club, whose true role was not to play soccer but to render the black township of Soweto ungovernable.

At least 16 people, probably more, all of them black, were murdered by the Football Club. Some were even younger than Stompie. Finkie Msomi, for example, was just 13 when she was burned to a cinder in an AK-47 and petrol bomb attack by the Football Club on her aunt’s Soweto house. Neighbours told the aunt that Winnie Mandela watched from a car as the house burned. If Finkie had lived, she would now be 27 and enjoying the welcome fruits of the new, post-Apartheid South Africa.

What was Finkie’s sin? None. Her aunt’s? Resisting Winnie Mandela’s demand that her sons join the Football Club and help it spread mayhem.

That’s how it was in those days when the release from prison of Nelson Mandela was on the horizon; when freedom for South Africa’s black majority beckoned but was not yet secure; and when Winnie Mandela was completing her transition from Mother of the Nation to Mugger of the Nation.

My own book and hour-long BBC Television documentary on Mrs Mandela, in which she was accused of beating and murdering Stompie with her own hands, had helped force the TRC’s hand into putting Mandela on the stand.

Prior to Kuny’s and Makanjee’s cross-examinations, witness after witness had testified over the previous eight days to her involvement in murder after murder, including even that of her long-time close friend, dedicated helper and personal physician, Dr Abu-Baker Asvat.

Now the moment was approaching when Winnie seemed about to confront a rare truth and admit she had lied and manufactured a false alibi during her 1991 trial relating to the kidnap, assault and murder of Stompie.

Then, as the drama mounted, Desmond Tutu, the TRC chairman, intervened as if from nowhere to wind up proceedings and let Winnie Mandela off the ropes just as the lawyers moved in to deliver knock-out blows.

Winnie Mandela, with the diminutive archbishop’s help, was performing yet another of her great escapes.

The Independent’s Mary Braid said there was nothing she had previously witnessed in a decade of reporting that had made her so angry. The Times’s Sam Kiley said that as Mandela gasped under the lawyers’ assaults Tutu diminished the TRC hearing "from Perry Mason to Oprah Winfrey".

"I think we should do something now we have been meaning to do for some time," said Tutu. "Would the victims and families of the victims please come up to the front? It has been traditional that we recognise the agony of victims by standing up and reflecting on their pain."

Mandela’s bemused victims, some of whom had been severely beaten by her and others who had accused her of murdering their relatives, shuffled forward and were invited by Tutu to embrace Winnie Mandela in a grotesque act of "reconciliation."

Mandela said that every one of the witnesses, nearly 40 of them, who had given evidence against her had lied. "Truth, in your hands, is putty which you can simply mould to suit your own ends," Advocate Kuny was suggesting to her before he was prematurely shut down by Tutu.

Bizarrely, Winnie Mandela, with Tutu by her side, now grabbed Joyce Seipei - the poverty-stricken, mother of Stompie Moeketsi, who had been beaten to a pulp by the Mother of the Nation - and hugged her and kissed her while press photographers captured the shameful moment.

Only hours before Winnie Mandela caught Joyce Seipei in her embrace, Stompie’s mother had been physically threatened by uniformed members of Mandela’s ANC Women’s League in the lavatories during a break in the hearing. Joyce was reduced to tears and Tutu to his credit publicly announced: "It is disgraceful behaviour from persons who are mothers themselves - and it is also a criminal offence - towards a mother whose child was gruesomely killed. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms."

Not all the witnesses were gulled by Tutu’s sham reconciliation. Some families who had accused Mandela of beating their children and arranging their murders anticipated the way Tutu was manipulating the climax and stormed out of the hearing before he could traduce them. "She’s the woman who murdered our children," screamed Caroline Sono as she turned her back on the proceedings. "Nothing has been done. There’s no justice in this land."

Caroline’s husband, Nicodemus, had spent almost a full day on the witness stand on the first day of the hearing testifying against Winnie Mandela and her role in the disappearance of Lolo almost 15 years ago.

Nomsa Tshabalala, whose son Siboniso disappeared with Lolo Sono, also walked out after testifying to Tutu: "Yes, she (Winnie) did kill them, just like Stompie . I would request Winnie to give Siboniso back to me. I want Siboniso or his bones and remains."

I had got to know the Sono family and Mrs Tshabalala well as I researched - from 1991 onwards - my book on Winnie Mandela. They also appeared in an hour-long Inside Story Special documentary, based on the book, that I made for the BBC. Like many of the black South Africans who helped me, they were strong African National Congress supporters and it took a lot of stalwart courage for them to denounce publicly Winnie Mandela, who was at that time still married to Nelson Mandela and had for years been a woman as revered internationally as, say, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.

But their story has never wavered - from the time I first spoke to them, through all the BBC interviews, throughout the rigours of the TRC hearings and until last week when I spoke to them again.

"You know, Mr Bridgland, I hoped for so many years that my son was alive in some foreign country. Now I know he is dead," Caroline Sono told me at one of our meetings. "We don’t want anyone put on trial because we know justice is never done for people like us in South Africa. We just want someone to tell us where Lolo’s bones are, so that we can bury him properly and his spirit can be with us, and for Winnie to say she’s sorry. She is not the Mother of the Nation, she is the killer of the nation."

The Sonos, their faith shattered by the South African justice system and by Archbishop Tutu’s conduct of the TRC hearing, thought they had found a saviour at the end of that day when Nicodemus gave hours of evidence, describing why and how Mandela had kidnapped his son. He testified that he saw a badly beaten Lolo in the back of Mandela’s mini-bus. Nicodemus told Tutu he had pleaded with Mandela to release his son, and went on: "Mrs Mandela said ‘I am taking this dog away. The movement will see what to do with him.’ That was the last time I saw my son - in the company of Mrs Mandela."

The unlikely saviour came in the shape of Baroness Nicholson, recently elevated as a Liberal Democrat peer after wisely, I am sure, defecting from the Tories in the House of Commons.

Nicholson - attending the hearing as the guardian of Katiza Cebekhulu, the principle witness in my book on Winnie Mandela - had a formidable reputation as a human rights activist with an eye for self-publicity. Now, she took the Sonos and Mrs Tshabalala under her wing and - beneath the TV lights and before the international press in the foyer of the TRC hall - publicly promised that, if the South African justice system did not prosecute Winnie Mandela for her role in the suspected murders of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Tshabalala, she would bring a private prosecution.

For good measure, Nicholson had also had herself photographed with the hapless and widely misused Joyce Seipei, mother of Stompie. "It was pouring with rain," Baroness Nicholson wrote in the Sunday Times of 6 December 1997. "Outside the hall I saw, on a patch of grass, a woman whose face bore deep sorrow: Stompie Seipei’s mother. I offered her sympathy and friendship should she wish to mount a private prosecution against Winnie. We moved on to find the parents of Lolo Sono, another victim. His father, Nicodemus, spoke English well. It was agreed that we would go for it."

Over lunch last week in Johannesburg, I asked Nicodemus Sono how Baroness Nicholson had followed up on her promise to prosecute Winnie Mandela. "I never heard from her again," said Nicodemus. "She gave us her telephone numbers, her country house [a rambling former rectory on the edge of Dartmoor] and her London number. I tried to phone her many times, but I could not get through to her."

My own heart sank for Nicodemus and Caroline; for shy Mrs Tshabalala; for Stompie and his mother; for Finkie Msomi; for Phumzile Dlamini, pregnant by Winnie’s lover "Shakes" Tau and beaten so badly by Mandela and the Football Club that she gave birth to a damaged baby; and a host of other little people who got caught in Winnie Mandela’s web and for whom there has been no justice from the powerful.

What did Nicodemus feel about the Baroness’s as yet unfulfilled promise? "If you are desperate and needing help, you take anything that comes across. As she was a Baroness, I thought OK, things won’t be difficult for us.

"The whole thing begins with hope, and when the hope disappears you get disappointed. You try to keep the hope alive, but the hope about Emma Nicholson is not alive now."

I found it easy to sympathise with Nicodemus, for at the time of the TRC hearings my own relationship with Emma Nicholson, which had been positive and constructive, was unravelling fast and would lead to tears all round.

It had all begun when Winnie Mandela went on trial in 1991 in connection with the murder of Stompie Moeketsi. State witnesses began disappearing at a suspiciously fast rate. I had a hunch that the key witness, Mandela United Football Club member Katiza Cebekhulu, had been kidnapped and taken to Zambia and thrown in jail without charge or trial.

I met Emma Nicholson in Zambia that same year and requested that she ask her friend, Frederick Chiluba, the country’s newly elected president, whether he had a man called Katiza Cebekhulu in one of his prisons. Chiluba said he doubted it, but he would order a search.

By the end of that day - Chiluba’s first day in office - the missing witness from Winnie Mandela’s trial had been found in a cell in Lusaka Central Prison, where he had been incarcerated without charge or trial. Chiluba ordered that Katiza Cebekhulu be brought from prison to the president’s office to tell his story. The chiefs of the Zambian Army, Air Force, Police and Prison Service - soon all to be dismissed - were ordered to attend in full uniform.

A long and painful adventure for Katiza, me and Emma Nicholson was beginning.

Tomorrow: How Nicholson’s involvement with Katiza Cebekhulu went sour.

Fred Bridgland is a long-time Africa correspondent and a former Scottish Journalist and Reporter of the Year. He has never met or spoken to Archer.

Katiza’s Journey: Beneath the Surface of South Africa's Shame, is published by Sidgwick and Jackson (a MacMillan imprint).

Fred Bridgland

• Fred Bridgland is a long-time Africa correspondent and former Scottsih journalist and Reporter of the Year. He has never met or spoken to Jeffrey Archer

• Katiza's Journey: Beneath the Surface of South Africa's Shame is published by Sidgwick and Jackson (a MacMillan imprint)

The Archer connection

WHAT is the thread that unites Jeffrey Archer, Baroness Emma Nicholson, Katiza Cebekhulu and a former ANC bodyguard turned Portsmouth care assistant?

Animosity between Archer and Nicholson can be traced to the time when both were senior members of the Tory party. After John Major gave Archer a peerage, Nicholson joined the Lib- Dems. When Archer was sentenced to four years for perjury, Nicholson prompted a police investigation into the alleged disappearance of millions of pounds from Archer’s charity, Simple Truth. Consequently, Archer was detained for an extra three months in a medium security prison. Only after the allegations were proved unfounded was he moved to an open prison.

Archer is thought to be seeking revenge on Nicholson. Using data protection laws he has demanded that she hand over all papers and computer files related to her allegation, perhaps as a prelude to legal action.

In an intriguing sideshow, Archer’s friends say a separate action is planned against Nicholson in relation to Katiza’s Journey, a sensational account of Winnie Mandela’s life by former Scotsman diplomatic editor Fred Bridgland.

Eric Vawser, a former Conservative constituency chairman, who has described Archer as an old friend and Nicholson as “ a sh* t” has befriended Katiza Cebekhulu, who believes Nicholson could still owe him royalties from the book. Nicholson had rescued Cebekhulu from prison in Zambia and brought him to Britain. Cebekhulu was a bodyguard of Winnie Mandela who said he had witnessed her stab Stompie Moeketsi. Cebekhulu and Nicholson have since fallen out. She insists there is no outstanding sum owed to Cebekhulu.