EXTRACT: 'Winnie's Stompie alibi was false and the evidence was ignored'
‘Truth, Lies and Alibies’ by Fred Bridgland presents a controversial account of how Makidizela-Mandela was protected
Police tapes shred the Brandfort alibi
Their lies contained so many omissions that by the time they’d finished telling them the lies were all I could hear. – John le Carré
Gradually, as the 1997 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing into the Mandela United Football Club continued, evidence from witness after witness demonstrated the extent to which Winnie Mandela’s alibi was an invention, a deliberate obstruction of the truth, a chimera. Mrs Mandela and her lawyer failed to produce even a single witness to corroborate the truthfulness of her trial alibi.
Key police investigators, such as the recently promoted Captain Fred Dempsey, Major Hoothra Moodley and Colonel Henk Heslinga, admitted that they had never properly investigated Winnie and that they had lost important files on human rights abuse cases to which she had been linked. This exasperated commissioner Yasmin Sooka, who said the police’s detective work seemed to involve “a pattern of lost dockets, missing witnesses and incomplete investigations”.
The TRC convened an additional special session on 28 and 29 January 1998 to cross-examine police officers in more depth. It was then that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his fellow commissioners learned that the police had known from the very beginning that the Brandfort alibi was false.
They were told of police phone taps that showed Mrs Mandela was in Soweto when she said she was in Brandfort. Captain Dempsey also made his admission that he had taken a statement from Johannes “Shakes” Tau, one of Winnie’s lovers and also one of her drivers, saying she was not in Brandfort for a single moment of the crucial period from 29 to 31 December 1988. None of this information was presented at Mrs Mandela’s trial, although Dempsey said it had been given to Attorney-General Klaus von Lieres.
Colonel Daniel Bosman, an officer with the security police, testified that Mrs Mandela’s home phone was tapped between 29 and 31 December 1988 and that the recorded tapes featured her voice. According to Bosman, the tapes and transcripts were available even seventeen months after the Brandfort alibi had been aired for the first time during the trial of Jerry Richardson. The record was available for both Mrs Mandela’s trial and her appeal. “On those specific days she alleged she was at Brandfort… we did pick up her voice and this was all passed on to the Murder and Robbery Unit, Soweto,” said Bosman.
Piers Pigou, a senior TRC investigator and interrogator, publicly asked Colonel Bosman: “Were you surprised that this information was never used in terms of the prosecution against Mrs Mandela?”
Bosman replied: “I can just say that at one stage they said the information was too sensitive to use. They did not want to make the information public.”
Pigou asked if Bosman had the impression that there seemed to be some level of unusual protection for Mrs Mandela, and Bosman replied: “I also reached that, I always reached the conclusion that people were afraid of her. The whole country was scared of her … Investigations were launched but nothing came of it.”
Bosman said Attorney-General Klaus von Lieres repeatedly refused to use the evidence, and went on: “We [the police] were powerless. We didn’t know what to do.”
Lawyer Sanjay Makanjee, representing the family of Stompie Moeketsi, asked Bosman: “If I am correct with what you are saying, the Attorney-General had evidence that would overturn Mrs Madikizela-Mandela’s defence in a trial. Is that correct? Are you saying that the Attorney-General had information stating that she was not in Brandfort at the time?”
Bosman replied: “From the Friday [29 December 1988] to the Sunday [31 December 1988] there were conversations on her tapes where she spoke … I am saying she was in Soweto during that weekend. They said it was too sensitive to use, they did not want to make it public … It appeared to me as if nobody wanted to touch her … It felt to us as if she were untouchable. That is the reality.”
Bosman said he did not know who gave the order to suppress the evidence. He said the tapes were finally destroyed in late 1993 and early 1994 so that they had ceased to exist by the time of South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994. “Instructions were received that all documents had to be destroyed,” said Bosman. “Everything was shredded and burned.”
Chris van Vuuren, state prosecutor in Jerry Richardson’s trial and assistant prosecutor in Winnie Mandela’s trial, told TRC researchers: “We were certain that the Security Branch must have known that Mrs Mandela was not in Brandfort on 29 December 1988.” But, he added, the information was not made available to the prosecution.
I tried to interview Klaus von Lieres about these events after he stepped down as Attorney-General following a short illness, to return to the bar in 1995. He declined to meet but gave me a carefully worded statement. “In the Winnie Mandela prosecution we faced wholesale and unprecedented intimidation of witnesses and the co-accused,” he said.
“We also laboured under the handicap that for two decades beforehand the criminal justice system had been misused by [apartheid-era] politicians. It meant that the bona fides of our prosecution was heavily questioned.”
This is an extract from Truth, Lies and Alibies by Fred Bridgland, published by Tafelberg and retailing for R265.00.