March 12, 2013 / 4:13 PM / in 5 years

Winnie Mandela may face inquiry after apartheid-era activists exhumed

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African authorities may launch a murder inquiry involving Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former president Nelson Mandela, after police exhumed the remains on Tuesday of two anti-apartheid activists who disappeared 24 years ago.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela , former wife of Nelson Mandela, attends the African National Congress (ANC) policy meeting in Midrand, north of Johannesburg, June 29, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Corlett “Lolo” Sono, 21, and 19-year-old Siboniso Anthony Shabalala, were among about 21,000 people killed in political violence during apartheid by agents of the white-minority regime or by fellow activists within black liberation groups.

In 1997, Sono’s father told South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a body set up to investigate apartheid-era atrocities, that he last saw his son in a pick-up truck with Madikizela-Mandela.

He told the commission Sono had been beaten up and that Madikizela-Mandela told him that his son was an apartheid spy.

In her testimony to the TRC, Madikizela-Mandela described the allegations as “ridiculous” and “lunacy”, and the judge dismissed the statement from Sono’s father, who is now dead.

In 2012 an investigator from South Africa’s Missing Person’s Unit found records and photographs taken by mortuary officials in 1988 of men who were identified by family members as Sono and Shabalala. The family then gave the go-ahead for the exhumation.

“Last year we found records of two young men who were brought to the mortuary after being stabbed many times and dumped in a field. Their bodies were not claimed and they were given a pauper’s burial,” Madelaine Fullard, who runs the Missing Person’s Unit, told Reuters.

The mortuary where the records were kept and the graveyard where the men were buried are in the same district where the Sono and Shabalala lived.

“We are confident it is them but DNA and forensic tests will now be conducted so police can resume their investigation,” Fuller said.

Once the face of South African resistance to white minority rule, the “Mother of the Nation” fell from grace in the 1980s as she became more militant in her fight against apartheid and increasingly paranoid about activists turning traitor.

The TRC found that Madikizela-Mandela and her former security detail, known as the Mandela United Football Club, had killed 18 people in Soweto, the sprawling township that served as the epicenter of anti-apartheid resistance.

In 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping and assaulting a minor who later died. Her jail sentence was reduced to a fine the following year.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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