Tutu angry as ANC tries to gag report

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The Independent Online
HANDING OVER the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report into the atrocities of the apartheid years, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said yesterday that this was a day for which South Africa, and the world, had been waiting.

The irony was that the day almost did not dawn because South Africa's first democratic African National Congress government, the creator of the TRC, tried to block the report's publication. It did so because it rejected the report's conclusions that the party, like the reviled apartheid regime, had also been guilty of human rights abuses.

The ANC's attempts to muzzle the commission led to ludicrous scenes yesterday. As President Nelson Mandela prepared to receive the report in Pretoria, his own party was attempting to torpedo it in a court in Cape Town.

Archbishop Tutu, one of the ANC's most prominent allies against apartheid, accused the party of behaving like the white government it had replaced. "Let me say I have struggled against a tyranny," he said. "I didn't do that in order to substitute another." He added: "If there is tyranny and an abuse of power, let them know that I will fight it with every fibre of my being."

An hour later the court ruled against the ANC. A jubilant Alex Boraine, TRC deputy chairman, called it a "victory for truth and human rights".

The ANC's legal action was an own goal. The party in power was seen attacking the truth and independence of the body that it itself had established, and which gave 21,000 victims a voice during more than two years of hearings.

Most commentators yesterday were struggling to understand why the ANC's action was launched before the party had even seen the entire report. The 3,500-page document lays by far the greatest blame for three murderous decades at the door of South Africa's former ruling white National Party.

The report identified some key perpetrators of atrocities, including President Mandela's former wife Winnie, the former president, PW Botha, the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and the former apartheid defence minister, Magnus Malan. None applied for amnesty and they can now be prosecuted.

Mr Botha defied subpoenas to attend Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

While the report labels the state - under a succession of apartheid, National Party governments - the "primary perpetrator" of torture, assault, murder and assassination from 1960-1994, it accused Mr Botha of leading the state "into the realms of criminality" after he took power in the late 1970s.

Previous governments had murdered opponents but the report says a line was drawn earlier between those considered a danger to the state and those critical of it. But during Mr Botha's reign, the TRC says, all activists and critics became hit squad targets.

The TRC rejects claims that former members of the State Security Council, chaired by Mr Botha, did not know the state was sanctioning murder.

Chief Buthelezi, who, like Mr Botha, refused to ask the TRC for amnesty in return for a full disclosure of the truth, was also guilty of atrocities. The conclusions on Chief Buthelezi may prove inconvenient to South Africa's new rulers, as it is he who steps in as acting head of state when President Nelson Mandela and his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, are abroad. The arrangement is part of the ANC's attempts to woo the IFP, once its bitter enemy, into an alliance.

The report concludes there is "overwhelming evidence" that the IFP was responsible for a third of all violations in the apartheid era - including 4,500 killings. The report also accused the IFP of working with the apartheid regime to create hit-squads which targeted anyone opposed to the government or Inkatha.

Winnie Mandela was also implicated in murder, attempted murder, assault and abduction.

In a chapter devoted to two weeks of TRC hearings during which she was accused of assaults and at least a dozen murders, the TRC concludes that she initiated and took part in the assault of teenage activist Stompie Seipei Moeketsi, who was later murdered by the coach of her football team, Jerry Richardson.

She claimed she was hundreds of miles away in Brandfort when the boy was murdered. The TRC report says she was in fact at home in Soweto where the assaults on Stompie, whom she had accused of being an informer, took place. Mrs Mandela also did not apply for amnesty.

The TRC report recommended that all perpetrators who did not take up the offer of amnesty and indemnity from future prosecution in return for truth, should now be pursued in the criminal and civil courts.

One page was blanked out in the report following the success of the former president FW de Klerk in having any findings implicating him in state-sponsored terrorism removed (at least temporarily).

"White indifference" and "hostility" to the commission were highlighted in the report.

President Mandela and Archbishop Tutu paid tribute to the 21,000 victims who came forward with their stories of inhumanity and brutality. Every victim was named in the report.