Mbeki speaks: why I pushed Winnie

By Time of article published Jun 22, 2001

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President Thabo Mbeki has broken his silence over his public tiff with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, saying the African National Women's League President was disruptive and disrespectful at the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Soweto uprisings.

Interviewed on SABC TV on Friday, he said he had not approved of Madikizela-Mandela arriving late at a solemn occasion and disrupting proceedings.

Moreover, she had defied his orders that she should join other African National Congress VIPs in front of the podium, instead of joining government dignitaries on the stage, Mbeki said.

"It was incorrect for anybody to arrive late and arrive in the manner that happened, because that was obviously going to be disruptive."

Mbeki also objected to Madikizela-Mandela's brushing aside of a protocol officer, who had tried to direct her away from the podium.

"It was not an ANC occasion. It was a government occasion ... and she brushed her aside and pushed her aside and said I'm not going to talk to you and marched on to the stage.

"Now, I don't approve and I'm not going to approve of behaviour that shows complete disrespect for anything and everything.

"It's not right," he said.

"Tomorrow, people can quite correctly accuse us: 'Why does the ANC abuse its positions in government and use government platforms in order to advance ANC causes?'"

ANC veterans such as Andrew Mlangeni and Walter and Albertina Sisulu had joined government dignitaries on stage "because of their standing", Mbeki said.

"I think the disrespect that was shown for that occasion was no good. I clearly would have wanted to avoid interaction with her.

"But she comes on stage - when I say she shouldn't - and then she marches up to me. We were listening to the chairperson of the National Youth Commission and now I must stand up and be kissing and cuddling on a state occasion.

"It's wrong. It's wrong. It would never have happened in any other country," the president said.

Madikizela-Mandela on Friday night again declined to comment on the incident, which was televised worldwide and which showed an angry Mbeki brushing her off and knocking her cap off as she tried to embrace him.

During debate on his budget vote on Friday, at least two opposition MPs referred to the incident, with Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Douglas Gibson urging Mbeki to apologise to Madikizela-Mandela.

"You limp from crisis to crisis, and the good publicity from your visit to the UK was overshadowed by the ghastly publicity surrounding the Winnie Mandela incident.

"People might expect us to keep quiet about it. We cannot do that. Millions of South Africans, especially women, were horrified at the spectacle," Gibson said.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe described the incident as undiplomatic, unpresidential, regrettable and disgraceful.

"The President and Mrs Mandela are long-time comrades, and should resolve their differences in private and not in public. You need her and her supporters just as much as she needs you as her President," he said.

Mbeki, however, did not refer to the issue in reply to the debate on Friday morning. - Sapa

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