AFRICAN National Congress President Nelson Mandela announced yesterday that he and his wife, Winnie Nomzamo Mandela, had decided to separate after almost 34 years of marriage, owing to differences that had arisen between them.
"I hope you will appreciate the pain I have been through," a grim-faced Mr. Mandela told a news conference after reading a prepared statement at ANC headquarters in Johannesburg.
Mr. Mandela's statement was greeted with a mixture of deep sadness by his colleagues for his personal predicament but also a sense of relief by members of an organization which has become the focus of widespread controversy over Mrs. Mandela's actions.
The ANC leader was flanked by former ANC President Oliver Tambo, Deputy President Walter Sisulu, his lawyer Ismail Ayob, and two other senior ANC colleagues.
Mrs. Mandela, who became the symbol of resistance to apartheid during her husband's 27-year jail term and inspired a generation of black youth with her militant stand, was not present.
"In view of the tensions that have arisen - owing to differences between ourselves on a number of issues in recent months - we have mutually agreed that a separation would be best," he said.
The announcement followed a series of new allegations about Mrs. Mandela's past activities, including claims linking her to the murder of a 14-year-old anti-apartheid activist, Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, and a Soweto physician who is widely believed to have examined the youth after he was beaten by some members of Mrs. Mandela's bodyguard, the United Mandela Football Club.
Mrs. Mandela was sentenced to a six-year jail term for the abduction and assault of Stompie and three other youths in the backyard of her home in Diepkloof, Soweto, at the end of December 1988. She has appealed both the sentence and conviction.
MR. Mandela said that his action had not been prompted by the current allegations being made against his wife and said he "deeply regretted" the role the news media had played in this regard. "I would once again urge that the issue of her guilt or innocence be left to the judicial system to determine," he said.
Mandela retraced his relationship with "Comrade Nomzamo Winnie Mandela" and praised her for standing by him during his time in the notorious Robben Island prison near Cape Town.
"During the two decades I spent on Robben Island she was an indispensible pillar of support and comfort to myself personally," he said. Mr. Mandela declared an "undiminished love" for his wife but added that circumstances beyond their control had thwarted their efforts to spend the rest of their lives together.
He paid tribute to her for withstanding harrassment, persecution, and arrest at the hands of the ruling National Party government and the decade of banishment she endured in the remote rural town of Brandfort. "Her tenacity enforced my personal respect, love, and growing affection," he said.
There was no comment from ANC officials regarding Mrs. Mandela's position as head of the ANC's department of social welfare and as a member of its executive committee. But a highly-placed ANC source told the Monitor that Mandela's statement would not be the end of the Winnie Mandela saga.
"It is now up to the movement to follow through on the statement by its president," the official said. "We cannot expect him to bear the burden alone. I anticipate that the top decisionmaking bodies of the ANC will want to consider, as a matter of urgency, Mrs. Mandela's positions of office in the ANC."
The executive committee can institute proceedings against any official, following the terms of the ANC's disciplinary guidelines adopted at its national conference last July. Grounds for proceedings include "misconduct which directly violates the norms of the ANC, any abuse of office, corruption, sexual harrassment, misappropriation of funds, or disgraceful behavior that brings the organization into disrepute or manifests a flagrant violation of the moral integrity expected of members."