Many blacks believe Winnie Mandela's trial on kidnap and assault charges was politically inspired and say its outcome shows there is no justice for blacks.
To them, her guilt or innocence is irrelevant.The government was in no hurry to jail the wife of black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela after her conviction and sentencing Tuesday to six years in prison on kidnap and accessory-to-assault charges.
Mrs. Mandela was freed on $70 bail while her attorney appeals the case, a process that normally takes months.
Because Mrs. Mandela's militant followers see her as a political martyr, the stiff sentence could put pressure on Nelson Mandela to take a harder line against the white-led government in talks on dismantling apartheid.
It could also prompt President F.W. de Klerk to pardon Mrs. Mandela in the interests of social peace.
De Klerk has been pursuing talks with Mandela's African National Congress, but they are already threatened by black factional fighting that the ANC contends is encouraged by police.
Because they are fighting for racial justice, many blacks feel obliged to support Mrs. Mandela simply because she is an anti-apartheid leader convicted by the court of a white government.
Outside the court on Tuesday, one of 500 angry supporters of Mrs. Mandela spoke for many when he said, "She has been herself harassed for a long time. . . . She didn't have any chance. As a black mother who has been in the struggle, she is not supposed to be sentenced . . . because she's a leader."
Mrs. Mandela, 56, and two co-defendants were convicted in the 1988 abduction and beating of four young men in the black township of Soweto as part of what the trial judge said appeared an attempt to discredit the white minister who ran the church home where they lived.
One of the victims, Stompie Seipei, was killed after the assaults. Jerry Richardson, the head of Mrs. Mandela's notorious and now-disbanded bodyguard unit, was convicted in his death.
Mrs. Mandela's co-defendant Xoliswa Falati, 37, was sentenced to six years Tuesday for kidnap and assault. The other defendant, John Morgan, 63, was convicted of kidnap charges and given a one-year suspended sentence.