De Klerk and ANC try to thwart report

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The Independent Online
ELEVENTH-HOUR attempts by the former president FW de Klerk and South Africa's ruling African National Congress to prevent the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) implicating them in apartheid-era atrocities threatened to torpedo the commission's long-awaited report.

Last night, only hours from delivering the report to President Nelson Mandela, the TRC was under fire from all sides. Yesterday began with news that Mr de Klerk, the country's last white president and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner with Mr Mandela, had succeeded, after court action, in forcing the commission to remove statements implicating him in state- sponsored terrorism.

The ANC then launched its own interdict against the TRC to prevent it publishing those parts of the report - in effect an official history of the murderous apartheid era - implicating it in gross human rights abuses.

With three more political parties boycotting today's official handing over of the report, national reconciliation, one of the commission's basic aims, has never looked more elusive.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, TRC chairman, yesterday denied that the five- volume report, two and half years in the making, was being watered down by legal challenges by those named as perpetrators of atrocities. But he admitted that up to 15 other people - whom he refused to name - had also succeeded in having references to them removed from the report.

Archbishop Tutu said that the TRC would fight Mr de Klerk's legal action when it reaches court on 4 March. The references to him appear to have been removed to prevent the publication of the report being delayed. The archbishop said that what had been removed could be reinserted when the report is revised for the final time next year.

In the search for truth the TRC has pleased no one. The right claims it was a witch-hunt against the Afrikaner, while a furious ANC yesterday accused the TRC of "criminalising" the liberation movement's struggle against apartheid.

That outburst came after leaks which suggested that in its mission to expose atrocities, the TRC has reached beyond the obvious repression of the racist National Party government to the liberation movement. The ANC seems to regard that as over-zealous.

According to leaks, the ANC will be accused in the report of being morally and politically responsible for human rights abuses, including torture and executions of prisoners in its guerrilla camps, backing claims that the ANC ran brutal, unjust regimes in its military training centres. The report is also expected to criticise the ANC for blurring the line between military and civilian targets.

Thabo Mbeki, ANC president and Mr Mandela's anointed heir, has always argued that there was no moral equivalency between the actions of the ANC during the struggle and those of the repressive apartheid-era governments.

But TRC officials argue that the ANC lost its right to themoral high ground when it agreed to the creation of a commission to look at atrocities on all sides. That was a crucial foundation for South Africa's negotiated transition of power.

There was tension from the start between the TRC's quasi-religious preoccupation with the truth and the more cynical instincts of politicians who saw the commission as an instrument of political expediency.

The report is also expected to identify senior members of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party as collaborators with the apartheid government against the liberation movements.

The ANC was once locked in a bloody war with Inkatha. But it will now find the TRC's conclusion politically inconvenient, for the ANC is trying to forge a political alliance with its old enemy. The ANC's efforts will suffer a setback - with South Africa's second election just months away - if leading Inkatha figures find themselves being pursued in the criminal courts.

The IFP did not take part in the TRC process and none of its members applied for amnesty for apartheid-era crimes. That leaves them open to criminal prosecution.

The same fate faces President Mandela's former wife, Winnie, whose alleged involvement in violence and murder in the late 1980s was the subject of two weeks of special TRC hearings.

There was speculation yesterday that her name might be one of those that had been removed.