In closing, Winnie Mandela's lawyer says state failed to prove case


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Winnie Mandela's lawyer

launched his final argument in her defense yesterday, saying the state had provided no proof that she took part in either kidnapping or assault.

George Bizos said the state had proved that "serious assaults were committed at the back of Mrs. Mandela's house" in December 1988, but he said that "proof of the commission of the assault is not proof that Mrs. Mandela was present."

Mrs. Mandela, 56, the wife of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, has said she was out of town when four young men were brought to her home Dec. 29, 1988. Two of the victims testified that she took part in a brutal beating they received that night after being abducted from a Methodist Church parsonage in Soweto.

A third victim disappeared at the start of the trial in February, and the fourth victim was found dead the week after the abduction.

Mr. Bizos said that Mrs. Mandela denied she was present and that other witnesses corroborated her testimony, including her driver and a schoolteacher from Brandfort, a town 200 miles from Soweto.

Mr. Bizos told Judge Michael Stegmann that false information about Mrs. Mandela was planted in the local press by "unknown persons" shortly after the assault. He said the allegations were never supported.

He added that there were "cogent reasons" for false accusations against Mrs. Mandela, including a campaign by her political opponents.

Mrs. Mandela was jailed, harassed and banished by the government over almost three decades while her husband was in prison for anti-apartheid activities, and she earned the label "mother of the nation" for the way she stood up to the authorities. The assault case has damaged her reputation and may have cost her an important election last month for leadership of the ANC women's league.

State prosecutors have attacked Mrs. Mandela's alibi as improbable and questioned why she waited until the start of her trial to say that she was out of town at the time of the assault. But Mr. Bizos said Mrs. Mandela did not know that her Brandfort trip was relevant.

The trial of Mrs. Mandela and two co-defendants is expected to end this week.

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