Mandela tells how he will tackle the future - and the past: In his first interview with any newspaper since he was inaugurated, South Africa's President spoke to John Carlin in Pretoria

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The Independent Online
President Nelson Mandela, 75, said yesterday he intended to see out his full five-year term of office. 'At least for the next five years,' he said in an interview with the Independent. 'But then I would be 80 and I don't think it would be profitable for a man of 80 to stand for political office.'

Speaking at the presidential office in Pretoria he said that between now and 1999 his priority would be to 'convert' all South Africans to a new sense of national identity, loyalty and unity, even if that meant forgiving many of the sins of the past. While acknowledging that many of apartheid's criminals would never suffer for the evil they did, he said their greatest punishment would be the obligation to serve under those they strove so long to suppress.

Mr Mandela was speaking shortly after the Justice Ministry announced that an amnesty would be considered for all those who committed political offences before 5 December last year, on condition that that they first confessed fully before a soon to be established Truth Commission. The Justice Minister, Dullah Omar, said the commision, which is expected to focus on the 15,000 political killings since 1990, would make recommendations to the President. In the end it would be up to Mr Mandela to decide who received pardons.

Declaring that forgivenness would not be absolute, Mr Mandela said people would be treated differently. 'Some of those who defended apartheid by sitting down to hatch schemes to murder people simply because they demanded equality, those we can never forgive.'

What about Inkatha officials who were sitting in parliament now and had been publicly linked with 'Third Force' elements in the security forces? 'If a person has committed a crime, whether he is inside parliament or outside parliament makes no difference. The police must take action against them. What we are concerned with is to ensure there is unity in the country. If people are inclined to change their views . . . then we'll have to work with them whatever the position was in the past.

'Take the fact that we work with Mr de Klerk: there can be no greater criminals than the National Party . . . But we are working with them and we are forgetting the past because they are contributing to the building of the new nation. The punishment is that they are now serving under those whom they tried too demonise.'

They were also serving under his estranged wife Winnie, a convicted criminal, and now deputy minister of arts and culture. Why had he appointed her? 'No. Mrs Mandela, whatever criticisms we may have of her, has made a very valuable contribution. There was a time in the late Seventies and Eighties when she was the rallying point around the country and she was subject to the most disgraceful persecution. She stood up very well to that. She has played a role and she has the qualifications to serve in that position.'

But her criminal record concerned a non-political offence: was not the idea of the ANC to sweep the country with a new moral broom? 'The people we are working with in the government have themselves sanctioned criminal acts - despicable criminal acts - so you must look at her position from the point of view of the government of national unity, which has all sorts of people whose hands are dripping with blood.'

Full interview, page 12

(Photograph omitted)