Tutu angry as ANC try to muzzle truth report

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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 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 morning. 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, was furious, accusing 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 said. "If there is tyranny and an abuse of power let them know that I will fight it with every fibre of my being."

A TRC commissioner, Yasmin Sooka, voiced dismay. "This is about you and I, not politicians," she said. "It [the TRC] has allowed us to look at ourselves and what we did and did not do."

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".

Almost every political party in South Africa has now attacked the report. The ANC is reported to be supporting other parties' demands for a blanket amnesty for perpetrators of atrocities, instead of an amnesty in return for the truth, as the TRC had demanded. This action comes in spite of the fact that the black government devised the TRC in order to counter the general amnesty sought prior to the 1994 elections by the former ruling 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 leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and the former apartheid defence minister, Magnus Malan. None of them applied for amnesty and they can now be prosecuted. But political parties - most of which have members who may be prosecuted - complain that the criminal courts will be clogged with actions against those who did not seek amnesty.

The ANC's legal action was an own goal. The party in power was seen attacking truth and the independence of a body it 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 action was launched before the party had even seen the entire report, which lays by far the greatest blame for three murderous decades at the door of the National Party. By making its objection, the ANC drew attention to its own abuses - the torture of "spies" and "traitors" in its camps in exile and its "blurring" of civilian and military targets.

If the report had been blocked, the media would have focused on the allegations against the ANC rather than the brutalities of the old white regime. The former were included in an appendix to court affidavits.

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