Apartheid sinners confront the truth

FROM ROBERT BLOCK

in Johannesburg

The time of revelation of apartheid-era crimes is nigh and South Africa will finally have come to terms with its bloody past. If all goes to plan, soon a parade of white security officials, former government-sponsored hitmen and a smattering of black guerrillas will bare their souls to an official truth commission. The carrot to admit wrongdoings will be amnesty; confess past sins and there is a chance of official absolution.

The creation of a truth commission was brought a step closer to becoming reality on Wednesday when parliament approved the National Unity and Reconciliation Bill with only seven no votes from the far-right Freedom Front Party. The bill still must go to the senate before President Nelson Mandela, one of its most ardent supporters, can sign it into law. That, however, is largely a formality.

Approval followed a debate lasting five and half hours which brought to a head more than a year of wrangling within the Government of National Unity. Many parties, especially the former ruling National Party, had opposed creating a commission to ferret out apartheid crimes on the grounds that it would amount to a witch hunt, and would divide rather than reconcile the country. Another factor, although rarely mentioned, was that all the crimes subject to investigation had been committed on the NP's watch.

Nevertheless, Mr Mandela and supporters of the bill insist that the main objective of the exercise is not to open old wounds but to help heal them. "There is a need for understanding, but not for vengeance, a need for reparation, but not for retaliation," Justice Minister Dullah Omar, author of the truth commission bill to investigate human rights offences, told parliament.

The sentiment was shared by Graham Simpson, the deputy director of the Johannesburg-based Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation which helped shape the legislation. "By granting of amnesty to individuals but making their crimes public, they will be prohibited from future political involvement. It is one way to restore confidence and credibility to tainted institutions. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a vehicle for transforming government and creating a human rights culture in society."

Among the commission's primary functions will be to slake the thirst for knowlege about missing relatives, to compensate victims of apartheid crime and openly to admit the abuses of the past to help meet the desire for justice.

The commission, to comprise 11 to 17 members appointed by the President in consultation with political parties, will have power to grant individual amnesties for politcal crimes committed before 6 December 1993.

President Mandela held out the possibility that the cut-off date might be extended to 10 May 1994, his inauguration day.

Such an extension would allow white right-wing bombers who terrorised the country during last year's election to apply for amnesty as well.

However, amnesty is not automatic. In certain cases, it can be withheld. But once the evidence has been presented, however damning, it is not supposed to be used in criminal proceedings.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor