Mother of the nation: Winnie Mandela threatened with having her belongings sold off to pay school fees

Joe Maluleke and two other officials arrived at Winnie Mandela’s house in Soweto on Tuesday to execute a court order granting a Johannesburg school permission to auction her belongings and pay an old debt. Among the goods meant to go under the hammer were 50 paintings, a round table, chairs and a silver tea set.

The problems started when the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president and an international icon, registered her great niece, Nobantu Vutela, as a boarding student at Abbotts College in Northcliff, Johannesburg, according to court papers filed in 2008.

“This shouldn’t be happening” — these were the words of a visibly nervous and frustrated sheriff of the court as he rang the outside bell and knocked at the gate belonging to a woman still considered by many in South Africa as the “mother of the nation.”

The accommodation fees for the year were 40,000 South African rand — the equivalent of about $4,000 today. Winnie Mandela, 76, who earns an annual salary of around $90,000, as a member of parliament, was given six months to pay the full amount. It’s unclear why she and not the girl’s own parents enrolled her into the private school. Despite the documents stipulating that R10,000 ($1000) be paid up front, lawyers representing the school say Mrs Mandela never paid a cent. They started instituting proceedings against her in October 2008. The case dragged on for five years. Maluleke was instructed by lawyers to get a locksmith and force his way into Mandela’s house, but he was understandably reluctant.
He later admitted that the task he was expected to carry out was a difficult one. “Is it because she is the mother of the nation?” he was asked. “Exactly,” he responded.

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