A specialized missing persons unit in South Africa has opened a new investigation into the 1988 disappearance of two men last seen in the company of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of ex-president Nelson Mandela, prosecutors said Tuesday. Authorities say new information caused them to reopen the case of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala. The two young men figured into Madikizela-Mandela’s chaotic life in Soweto when she ran a soccer club and faced a host of allegations that she and those under her committed violent attacks.
The National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa’s Missing Persons Task Team, assigned to investigate disappearances from the apartheid era, is handling the investigation. Already, investigators have taken DNA samples from Shabalala and Sono’s family members, spokesman Makhosini Nkosi said in a statement. “The investigations into this case are still ongoing and possible burial sites are still being examined on the basis of recently obtained information,” Nkosi said. “No exact burial sites have yet been confirmed or excavated.”
News of the reopened investigation was first reported by the Sunday Herald newspaper of Scotland. Madikizela-Mandela married Mandela in 1958 and they spent 27 years apart while Mandela was imprisoned by South Africa’s racist white government. While beloved by some, her behaviour grew increasingly erratic in the 1980s as crackdowns against her and the African National Congress liberation movement grew increasingly intense. She and her former bodyguard unit, known as the Mandela United Football Club, were accused of committing 18 killings and other crimes during this period.
The violence by young men she allowed to sleep at her house and sponsored as a soccer club caused the mainstream anti-apartheid movement to ostracize her. Exiled ANC leaders, on instructions from her jailed husband, ordered the club’s disbandment. Madikizela-Mandela later was convicted on kidnapping and assault charges involving four young men in 1991. Initially sentenced to six years in jail, she was ordered to pay a $3,200 fine on appeal.
In 1997, as she appeared before the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee in what she described as an attempt to clear her name, Sono’s father Nicodemus testified that he saw his son and Madikizela-Mandela in the same van. He said his son’s face was puffy from a beating. Asked why his son was attacked, Nicodemus Sono said Madikizela-Mandela told him his son was a spy who needed to be dealt with. The van drove away, and Nicodemus Sono said it was the last time he ever saw his son. “I went to see Mrs Mandela and she said, ‘Lolo, we dropped him off somewhere,’” the father testified.
Nomsa Shabalala, mother to Siboniso, said he had been part of a group, including Lolo, targeted by Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguards. “I want Winnie to give my son back. I want his bones and remains,” she said at the time of the hearings. When it came time for her to offer testimony, Madikizela-Mandela described most of the accusations as ‘ludicrous’, ‘lunacy’ or ‘ridiculous’.