In a 74-page report, made public yesterday, the three lawyers who made up the commission - two of them ANC members - said they were 'profoundly shocked' by what they had discovered. 'We were left with an overall impression that for the better part of the Eighties there existed a situation of extraordinary abuse of power and lack of accountability.'
The commission focused on the treatment meted out to suspected traitors detained in the ANC's guerrilla camps in Angola, Uganda and Tanzania. Among the witnesses the commission heard were 17 ex-detainees and six high-ranking ANC officials.
The report, which listed the crimes but did not name names, highlighted 'the inordinate lengths of time' people were held without trial; 'the consistently harsh' conditions of confinement; 'the unconscionable and pernicious' inadequacy of the detainees' food; 'the harrowing accounts of use of torture to extract confessions'; and 'violence meted out gratuitously and brutally'.
Among the many examples cited was the practice in Quatro camp, Angola, of washing detainees' blankets once every six months and using the water that remained for the detainees to bathe in. One suspect's interrogation consisted of being suspended from a tree, burnt on the soles of his feet with a candle and beaten on the back with whips. The commission's report also cited evidence that ANC members who mutinied against the leadership in 1984 had been summarily executed.
'Nobody was beyond the reach of the security apparatus,' the report said, pointing to the case of Pallo Jordan - now the ANC's head of information and publicity - who was detained for six weeks in 1983.
At a press conference, Mr Mandela, the ANC President, said the organisation was now studying a list of 10 recommendations by the commission. One, the appointment of a fully independent commission to delve deeper into the abuses, had already been accepted. 'As the leadership of the ANC we accept ultimate collective responsibility for adequately monitoring and therefore eradicating such abuses,' he said.
He noted that the 'regrettable' abuses should be understood 'in context', but added: 'None the less they are inexcusable. One of the lessons of our struggle indicates very clearly that human rights form the cornerstone of freedom. No force of circumstances should be permitted to induce us to forget the centrality of this point and lead us into a trap of excusing violations of human rights. We accept full responsibility for what happened.'
Asked why the decision had been taken not to name the guilty parties, Mr Mandela replied that, by the commission's own admission, insufficient evidence had been furnished conclusively to establish guilt. That question would be determined after the independent commission had concluded its work.
While evasive on such thorny political points, ANC leaders strove to draw attention to their courage in making public their organisation's crimes and to contrast this with the attitude of the South African government towards its own misdemeanours.
Joe Slovo, a leading ANC member and Communist Party chairman, sat alongside Mr Mandela at the press conference. 'Let's see,' he said, 'if
De Klerk will come forward and say 'these are the crimes for which we in the National Party bear collective responsibility'.'