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Court Grants Winnie Mandela Right to Appeal

July 17, 1991|SCOTT KRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Winnie Mandela was granted permission Tuesday to appeal her convictions for kidnaping and assault, ensuring that it will be at least a year before she has to face the prospect of beginning a six-year prison term.

Judge Michael S. Stegmann, who had found Mandela guilty after a three-month trial, said that while he thought his verdict correct, there is a "reasonable prospect" that a higher court might overturn it.

"The reasoning that brought certainty to my own mind is open to substantial criticism," he said, adding that he is prepared to open the case to other jurists, who might draw different conclusions. "I consider that leave to appeal must certainly be given."

Mandela smiled broadly as the judge read his decision. Her husband, African National Congress President Nelson Mandela, who was sitting next to her in the public gallery, leaned over and kissed her.

The appeal will be heard by the country's highest judicial body, the Court of Appeals, in Bloemfontein. Lawyers said that a decision in the case could take several years, by which time a new constitution may have been adopted and a new government come to power. That new government, which is likely to be controlled by blacks, might be inclined to dismiss Winnie Mandela's conviction, analysts say.

Stegmann also granted Winnie Mandela's co-defendants, Xoliswa Falati and John Morgan, permission to appeal their convictions. All three also won the right to appeal their sentences. Winnie Mandela has been free on her personal recognizance since she was charged last year.

George Bizos, who headed Mandela's team of four lawyers, said the ruling will "give us an opportunity to persuade other judges that we might have been right."

Despite the charges and conviction, the 57-year-old Mandela has been trying to launch a political career within the ANC, where she currently is head of the social welfare department.

She was soundly defeated in a bid to become president of the ANC's women's league in April. But at the ANC's national conference earlier this month, she was elected to the policy-making ANC national executive committee.

In finding her guilty in May, Stegmann described the anti-apartheid activist as a "calm, composed, deliberate and unblushing liar." She and her co-defendants were tried in connection with the abduction and beating of four black youths at her Soweto home in December, 1988.

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