Former president Thabo Mbeki says the ANC leadership was physically not around to stop Winnie Madikizela-Mandela from doing "wrong things". Mbeki told the SABC on Tuesday that although Madikizela-Mandela had done wrong things in her life, she did them because she was a "courageous activist".
Madikizela-Mandela died on Monday night.
Mbeki said her involvement with the Mandela Football Club was unfortunate as it tainted her legacy.
"The period when she got involved with the Mandela Football Club ... I'm saying one would regret that because of the distance, the physical distance, because of the conditions at the time, we were not immediately around to ensure that she didn't do wrong things," he said.
"For a person like that who had made a very important contribution by showing the need and possibility to stand up, to say no to oppression, it doesn't matter how many times they get detained, it doesn't matter what happens, the struggle must continue. To spoil that kind of role by getting involved with things like that was not right.
"She was very brave and courageous, activist as opposed to a philosopher or theorist ... She was not an observer who would think or theorise ... Some of that activity would even verge on recklessness, for instance this incident where she said something to the effect that, with our matches and necklaces we will liberate the country. That was wrong."
Mbeki was asked how Madikizela-Mandela's life should be celebrated. He said it was important to remember that she did not work alone.
"It's not as though Winnie worked alone. They were in the struggle, they were a collective ... When you talk about people engaged in the struggle ready to sacrifice, sure, she was part of that ... I think in celebrating her, we need to talk in those terms."
According to TimesLive, Mbeki said Madikizela-Mandela disobeyed warnings from the ANC's leadership, in Zambia at the time, against being involved with the Mandela Football Club.
The club, also thought to be her personal bodyguards, reportedly abducted four boys in 1989. A Mandela Crisis Committee was reportedly formed in an attempt to persuade Madikizela-Mandela to release them.
In 1991, she was convicted of the kidnapping of one of the boys, Stompie Seipei, who later died. Her six-year sentence was later reduced to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence on appeal.
"He [Oliver Tambo] tried very hard to say to her that this behaviour is not right, but didn't respond until later," Mbeki reportedly said.
In an interview with HuffPostSA last year, Madikizela-Mandela again denied being involved in Seipei's murder.