JOHANNESBURG: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a giant of South Africa's liberation struggle, has apparently launched a bitter attack on the African National Congress's “shabby treatment” of the Mandela family, according to an unverified email leaked to the London-based Guardian.

The message, purportedly written by Madikizela-Mandela, an ANC MP and ex-wife of the former South African president Nelson Mandela, says the family is “deeply hurt” by the governing party's actions and has been made to feel that “we do not matter” unless “to be used for some agenda”.

It also accuses the ANC of exploiting Nelson Mandela's birthday — he turns 94 next week — for disingenuous reasons at the family's expense.

The email was sent to the Guardian by a dissident faction of the ANC. Neither the party nor Madikizela-Mandela’s office denied its authenticity, though it could not be independently confirmed.

The 75-year-old, regarded as the “Mother of the Nation” by her supporters, is known to be at odds with the current South African president, Jacob Zuma, and has publicly called for a change of leadership. The leaked email is headed “From: winnie mandela”, with her personal email address, is dated July 4, 2012 and is addressed to the office of the ANC national spokesman. It begins by rejecting his invitation to attend a meeting to discuss Tuesday's ANC centenary commemorations in Limpopo province, where Zuma is giving a speech about her former husband. It goes on to complain about the way she and her family were treated at the main centenary event in Mangaung, Free State province, earlier this year.

“The family is still grabbling (sic) with the most shabby treatment throughout the years, especially in Mangaung in January this year,” the email states. “As I indicated we are deeply hurt as the family. We did not even have a table and the situation was saved by Mrs Bridgette Radebe.”

It was not clear to which members of the Mandela family she was referring. Madikizela-Mandela has two daughters by Nelson Mandela: Zenani and Zindzi. She also remains close to him and has been seen visiting him at hospital during health scares and, at public events, sitting alongside him and his current wife, Graca Machel. The Mandela family is large, and includes another daughter, Maki, as well as 17 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren, but most have stayed away from politics.

Madikizela-Mandela, one of the ANC's longest-serving activists, who helped keep the anti-apartheid struggle alive during her former husband's 27 years in prison, apparently expresses a sense of betrayal at being marginalised during the milestone events.  “I am surprised that you want me to be part of your centenary celebrations when in 2011 when you were preparing for 2012 I was a spectator throughout. I was not deployed anywhere. I am the one person who has first information about the leaders you are celebrating. I would have even given you the song that was composed for that day.”

She complains that the ANC centenary flame, a symbolic torch which has been touring South Africa, was brought to her last month by provincial rather than national officials, only after “a certain faction fought for it to be brought to me. I am aware that Minister Paul Mashatile and Cde David Makhura fought for it to be brought to me.”

At the time, South African press reports quoted Madikizela-Mandela as being “so touched” to receive the flame at her home in Soweto township.

In the email she also criticises the arrangements for passing the flame to Nelson Mandela at his home village of Qunu, Eastern Cape province, in May.

By Arrangement with the Guardian

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