- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Forensic scientists on Tuesday exhumed two bodies believed to belong to young activists last seen 24 years ago at the home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as police said they have opened a new murder investigation.

The case reopens a dark chapter in the life of the then-wife of Nelson Mandela. Many South Africans still revere the 76-year-old Ms. Madikizela-Mandela as “the mother of the nation,” but others have feared her as a vengeful and heartless operator. She had “the blood of African children on her hands,” her former friend Xoliswa Falati told South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the late 1990s, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that Ms. Madikizela-Mandela was responsible for the disappearances in November 1988 of 21-year-old Lolo Sono and his friend Sibuniso Tshabalala, 19. But nothing was done to pursue allegations she was directly involved in their killings, even though her chief bodyguard, Jerry Richardson, told the commission he and a colleague stabbed the young men to death on Ms. Madikizela-Mandela’s orders.

Mortuary records indicate the two bodies that were unearthed on Tuesday had multiple stab wounds

In front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ms. Madikizela-Mandela denied all knowledge of the two and said allegations she was involved in six other killings were rubbish.

** FILE ** Winnie Madikizela-Mandela listens to evidence at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Johannesburg in 1997. (AP Photo/Odd Anderson, Pool)
** FILE ** Winnie Madikizela-Mandela listens to evidence at a Truth and ... more >

Ms. Madikizela-Mandela could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Richardson was head of the Mandela United Football Club, a crowd of young men who acted as Ms. Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguards and also as vigilantes who, some charge, she used to get rid of enemies.

On Tuesday, the African National Congress party — which Ms. Madikizela-Mandela serves as a recently re-elected member of the National Executive Council — orchestrated the ceremony that brought more than 100 family members to watch the uncovering of the skeletal remains believed to belong to Sono and Tshabalala.

Most attendees responded only lukewarmly to traditional ANC slogans, causing one official to urge them to respond with more vigor. Another told them to “make sure everyone knows you are ANC families.”

ANC officials tried to prevent family members, some of whom have accused Ms. Madikizela-Mandela of killing their sons, from talking to reporters.

John Sono, uncle of one of the missing men, insisted on speaking, saying, “We are getting some relief because we know that we are closing the chapter of ‘we don’t know’ and we are opening the chapter of ‘here lies our son.’”

When a journalist asked if he wanted justice, Mr. Sono said, “That one is still very far; we still need to talk about it,” before an ANC official shoved his hand in front of TV microphones saying, “No, no he can’t answer that one.”

Piers Pigou, the senior investigator for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who cross-examined Ms. Madikizela-Mandela during its hearings, told The Associated Press, “I think the standard of proof used by the truth commission basically established prima facie (enough evidence to prosecute) cases against Mrs. Mandela and members of the Mandela United Football Club, including in the disappearances of Sono and Tshabalala.”

Mr. Pigou said he found it particularly distressing to know that the men’s bodies were taken to the mortuary the day after they disappeared and that police were unable to link them to the two missing men who were being desperately sought by their families.

The commission lambasted police investigations into the disappearances, causing some to wonder whether the incompetence was purposeful. Mr. Pigou said there was “a pattern of incredibly incompetent investigations” with an “enormous number of missing dockets.”

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