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Prosecutors reopen case of missing men linked to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Investigators say they have received new information about the disappearance of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala in 1988

The mysterious disappearance of two men last seen in 1988 in the company of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, then wife of Nelson Mandela, is the subject of a fresh investigation by prosecutors in South Africa.

Officials said new information has led them to reopen the 24-year-old case of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala, linked with Madikizela-Mandela when she ran the notorious Mandela Utd football club in Soweto township.

The national prosecuting authority's missing persons task team, assigned to investigate disappearances from the apartheid era, has taken DNA samples from Shabalala and Sono's family members.

"The investigations into this case are still ongoing and possible burial sites are still being examined on the basis of recently obtained information," spokesman Makhosini Nkosi said. "No exact burial sites have yet been confirmed or excavated."

The fates of Sono and Shabalala were examined when Madikizela-Mandela appeared before South Africa's post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commission in 1997.

Sono's father Nicodemus testified that he saw his son and Madikizela-Mandela in the same van. He said his son's face was puffy from a beating.

Asked why his son was attacked, Nicodemus Sono said the militant activist told him his son was a spy who needed to be dealt with. The van drove away, and Nicodemus Sono said it was the last time he ever saw his son.

"I went to see Mrs Mandela and she said, 'Lolo, we dropped him off somewhere,'" the father testified.

Nomsa Shabalala, mother of Siboniso, said he had been part of a group including Lolo targeted by Mandela Utd. "I want Winnie to give my son back," she said at the time of the hearings. "I want his bones and remains."

When it came time for her to offer testimony, Madikizela-Mandela described most of the accusations as "ludicrous", "lunacy" or "ridiculous".

But the commission concluded that Sono and Tshabalala were last seen alive at the Mandela home. "The commission finds that Madikizela-Mandela was involved in Lolo Sono's abduction and knew that he was kept on her premises," its report said. "The commission finds, therefore, that Madikizela-Mandela must accept responsibility for the disappearance of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Shabalala."

Now 76, Madikizela-Mandela remains one of South Africa's most divisive figures: a courageous apartheid-struggle heroine dubbed the "mother of the nation" but with a deeply troubling past. Mandela Utd, her bodyguard unit, was accused of 18 killings and other crimes during the 1980s; on instructions from her husband, who was in jail at the time, African National Congress (ANC) leaders ordered the club's disbandment.

The most high-profile case was the murder of 14-year-old Stompie Moeketsi. In 1991 Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault in the Moeketsi case. Initially sentenced to six years in jail, she was ordered to pay a $3,200 (£1,966) fine on appeal.

Mandela and Madikizela-Mandela divorced in 1997. She is currently a member of the African National Congress's national executive committee. On Wednesday, her spokeswoman, Zodwa Zwane, said she was taking part in the ANC conference in Bloemfontein and was unavailable for comment.

News of the reopened investigation was first reported by Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper.

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