JOHANNESBURG — THE unthinkable happened in a South African court last week: Witness Kenneth Kgase testified about Winnie Mandela's alleged role in the abduction of and assault on four black youths. In the first weeks of the trial, the disappearance of four defendants and abduction of a state witness seemed to confirm what many believed: that nobody would dare testify against her. But when the trial reopened this week, Mr. Kgase, and Thabiso Mono, who earlier had refused to testify, changed their minds.
The trial comes at a difficult time for the African National Congress, which is trying to establish itself as a political organization. The trial, some analyst believe, is undermining the ANC's image as a responsible political party.
Kgase, an articulate but soft-spoken man, spent the first day giving testimony to prosecutors, and has been cross-examined by defense lawyers for a day and a half. Cross-examination continues today. He told of his abduction from a Methodist manse in Soweto in December 1988, along with three others, including 14-year-old Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, who was later found dead.
Kgase told of cruelty and assault, in which he and his three colleagues were repeatedly beaten by Mrs. Mandela and her bodyguards known as the Mandela United Football Club. Kgase also told how he, Mr. Mono, and Pelo Mekgwe were forced to take part in an initiation ceremony that involved the attempted murder of a former member of the Club. Jerry Richardson, Club leader, was convicted of murdering Stompie last year.
Cross-examination of Kgase by George Bizos, Mandela's defense lawyer, has sought to underscore her claim that three of the youths were engaging in homosexual activities with the Rev. Paul Verryn, a Methodist minister living at the manse. Mandela has alleged that Stompie Seipei was a ``sellout'' who had given police information about activist colleagues.
KGASE has denied he was involved in homosexual activities but admits some details that appear to link him to alleged activity by Mr. Verryn and others who stayed at the manse. Kgase also said under cross-examination that he and Verryn allowed five weeks to elapse before reporting the assaults to police. Mr. Bizos claimed the delay occured because Verryn did not want sexual misconduct allegations to be made public.
But when Bizos told Kgase he was a ``publicity seeker'' who implicated Mandela in order to ``peddle'' his story to various journals, Kgase replied: ``I have no resentment towards Mrs. Mandela. I am not here to implicate her. I am her victim.''
Meanwhile, Patrick Laurence, a writer for the Star of Johannesburg newspaper, was sentenced to 10-days in prison last week for refusing to reveal his sources for a report claiming that Pelo Mekgwe, a state witness in the Winnie Mandela trial, had been abducted by members of the ANC. Mr. Laurence was released from jail after 10 hours, when an application for bail succeeded. His sentence under the controversial Section 205 of the criminal procedures Act was condemned by human rights and journalists.
Also this weekend, supporters of the African National Congress and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party clashed in the township of Alexandra (near Johannesburg), leading to 10 deaths and 34 injuries. The incident followed a confrontation between the groups in a Soweto hostel last week that killed 25 people. The fighting has raised concerns that the recent peace pact between Inkatha's Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela is beginning to unravel.