PRETORIA, South Africa – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (search), the former wife of Nelson Mandela (search), avoided a four-year prison term Monday when an appeals court overturned charges of theft from a women's political league.
The High Court in Pretoria upheld all 43 charges of fraud from her conviction in April 2003 but rejected all 25 counts of theft, handing her a five-year suspended sentence.
Outside the court, Madikizela-Mandela said she would challenge the partial dismissal. "I have instructed my lawyers to appeal against a judgment that is completely wrong," she was quoted as saying by the South African Press Association.
The former anti-apartheid activist and African National Congress Women's League (search) president pleaded innocent to all charges of theft and fraud involving $120,000. She was accused along with her financial adviser Addie Moolman.
They allegedly used letters on Women's League stationery to fraudulently obtain bank loans in the name of nonexistent employees. The theft charges relate to money deducted from the bank accounts of loan applicants for a bogus funeral policy.
Moolman also had the theft charges dropped against him but lost his appeal against the fraud conviction. His five year jail sentence was reduced to four.
Both have been free on bail since their convictions.
The ruling party African National Congress welcomed the judgment, saying it would have preferred all charges been dropped against the longtime member.
"Winnie is a tried and tested leader of the ANC who has gone through hard experiences and sacrifices in the process of the liberation struggle," the ANC said in a statement. "Her experiences and leadership [are] valued by everyone across the racial spectrum in our country and throughout the world."
Madikizela-Mandela resigned as leader of the women's league after her conviction last year but remains an outspoken member of the ruling party.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Pretoria court on Monday to support Madikizela-Mandela, who is still known to her supporters as "the mother of the nation."
Madikizela-Mandela was convicted in 1991 for kidnapping and assault. Her six-year jail sentence was reduced on appeal to a fine.