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Winnie Mandela wins jail appeal

From CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault

South Africa
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Justice and Rights
Nelson Mandela

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, has escaped a prison sentence after an appeals court judge overturned theft convictions.

The judge in Pretoria also on Monday suspended a three-and-a-half-year sentence on the former leader of the women's wing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for fraud.

After her court appearance, Madikizela-Mandela told reporters she had instructed her attorneys to appeal the fraud conviction.

Madikizela-Mandela, 67, and co-defendant Addy Moolman had been sentenced last year for a scheme involving the use of her signature to fraudulently obtain bank loans.

Moolman was convicted of obtaining personal loans for fictitious ANC Women's League employees from a local bank using Madikizela-Mandela's name and letterheads.

Sixty people falsely claiming to be women's league employees obtained loans from the bank, authorities said.

They all carried letters on women's league stationery confirming their employment, and most of those letters were signed by Madikizela-Mandela.

In explaining his decision to throw out the theft convictions and set aside the jail term for fraud, Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann of the Pretoria high court said the "crimes were not committed for person gain," but added that "dishonesty in high places cannot be tolerated" either.

Moolman's theft sentence was also overturned, but he must serve a four-year prison term on fraud charges.

Wrapped in a shawl on a cold, wet day, Madikizela-Mandela seemed calm at Monday's hearing and showed little reaction to the verdict. Outside the court though, scores of supporters cheered at the news.

Despite a string of legal troubles, Madikizela-Mandela remains popular among poor black South Africans who regard her as a defender of the downtrodden.

She was convicted in 1991 for the kidnapping of 14-year-old township activist Stompie Seipei, whose decomposed body was found near her home with his throat cut. But she was acquitted of murder and her six-year jail term was reduced on appeal to a fine.

Her reputation was further diminished when Mandela sacked her from his ANC-dominated government in 1995 and divorced her for adultery a year later.

Madikizela-Mandela resigned from parliament and abandoned her political career after her conviction last year.

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