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* The dramatic return to politics by Winnie Mandela, the estranged and controversial wife of African National Congress President Nelson Mandela, has sent shock waves through the ANC as it gears up for South Africa's first nonracial election in April next year.

Mrs. Mandela, who was convicted on charges of kidnapping four youths in December 1988, was elected president of the influential ANC Women's League at the organization's annual conference in Durban late Wednesday.

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One ANC official said it represented a severe blow to ANC efforts to win the support of the mixed-race or ``colored'' Asian and white minorities. ``This is a nightmare which will haunt us,'' he says.

``This is the worst thing that could have happened to the ANC in the early stages of what was looking like a very impressive election campaign,'' a Western diplomat says. ``Mrs. Mandela has come to symbolize those radical elements in the ANC which could pose a threat to the transition-to-democracy.''

Business people and stockbrokers indicated, on condition of anonymity, that the prospect of Mrs. Mandela holding a leadership position in an ANC-led government would shatter efforts to build investor confidence. ``This is an unmitigated disaster not only for the ANC but for South Africa,'' one stockbroker says.

Mandela's two-year suspension from the Women's League was lifted by the conference this week in a bid to heal divisions in the movement. She defeated the highly respected ANC veteran Albertina Sisulu by winning nearly two-thirds of votes cast.

Mandela has been at the center of controversy since she was charged and found guilty of kidnapping and assault in connection with the January 1989 murder of 14-year-old activist James ``Stompie'' Seipei. Her conviction on assault charges was overturned last April by the country's Appeal Court, but her conviction of kidnapping was confirmed.

She and her husband separated in April 1992 following a public confrontation with a state witness in her 1991 trial.

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