Winnie Mandela trial delayed 3 weeks Judge ponders jail for fearful witnesses


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The trial of Winnie Mandela was postponed for three weeks yesterday after two frightened witnesses said that even the threat of jail could not make them risk their lives by testifying against Mrs. Mandela.

Judge M. S. Stegmann noted that someone had tried to "frustrate the course of the trial" by kidnapping a third witness, but he insisted that the two available witnesses did not have "just cause" to refuse.

Judge Stegmann told Kenneth Kgase, 31, and Thabiso Mono, 21, that he could hold them indefinitely for refusing to tell who kidnapped and assaulted them in December 1988. But attorney Paul Kennedy told the judge his two clients still were unwilling to speak. The men have testified that they fear for their lives.

Judge Stegmann delayed until March 6 a decision on whether to send the men to prison for failing to testify. The prosecutor asked for the delay to give police time to try to locate the third witness, Gabriel Pelo Mekgwe, who was abducted Sunday night -- the day before testimony was to begin.

Mrs. Mandela, once dubbed "the mother of the nation," and three others are standing trial for kidnapping and beating up four young men, including a teen-age activist whose body was later found in a field.

Meanwhile, in the tiny rural township of Tumahole, 60 miles south of Johannesburg, the mother of the dead teen-ager, Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, held a news conference at which she was surrounded by men from the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela's anti-apartheid organization.

The ANC "comrades" read a statement that said Stompie's hometown community blamed his death "on the racist regime," and they charged that his death was being used to harass Mrs. Mandela.

"We do not believe Stompie was killed by members of the Mandela Football Club," said Fizile Dabi, an executive committee member of the Tumahole ANC branch. The Mandela Football Club was the name used by Mrs. Mandela's bodyguard unit, although the members apparently did not participate in any soccer matches.

Residents of Soweto, the black township where Mrs. Mandela lives, have said her bodyguards regularly terrorized the community before the kidnapping incident.

The Tumahole representatives said that their statement was read to Joyce Mananki Seipei, who does not speak English, and that she agreed with its contents.

The comrades, who never left Mrs. Seipei's side, then translated questions into her native language, Sotho, and relayed the answers to reporters. Sometimes, they answered on her behalf without bothering to pose the questions to Mrs. Seipei.

The comrades, all local ANC officials, also denied reports that they were muzzling or manipulating Mrs. Seipei to prevent her from making comments damaging to Mrs. Mandela.

Asked whether she thought Mrs. Mandela responsible for her son's death, Mrs. Seipei gave an answer that was translated: "She said she won't actually commit herself. She cannot say Mrs. Mandela was there or not there" when Stompie was kidnapped.

The ANC officials noted that Mrs. Seipei was a "card-carrying member" of the organization, and they passed around her membership card, which showed that Mrs. Seipei joined the ANC last October -- after Mrs. Mandela was charged in connection with the case.

The kidnapping victims were allegedly taken to Mrs. Mandela's home, where they have said they were assaulted repeatedly by Mrs. Mandela and her guards. Police said they found blood on the walls and floors of Mrs. Mandela's home. Her chief bodyguard, Jerry Richardson, has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

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