ANC admits committing brutality Mandela calls acts 'inexcusable'

October 20, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Security officials of the African National Congress committed 'extraordinary' acts of brutality and torture at the organization's military camps outside of South Africa, an ANC report admitted yesterday.

The report, ordered by ANC President Nelson Mandela in March, detailed cases of torture, neglect and detention without trial at ANC bases in several African countries.

The ANC fought a low-level guerrilla war against the South African government from the 1960s until its campaign was suspended in 1990 in response to the government's political reform program.

It imprisoned its own dissidents as well as ANC soldiers who were believed to be double agents working for the government.

The report said some prisoners were held for years without trial. Others were forced to undergo vicious treatment, including severe beatings and smotherings.

"There were abuses sometimes of the most chilling kind," according to the 74-page report prepared by three lawyers.

The investigators singled out one camp in Angola as especially horrible during the 1980s.

"The inmates, whether convicted of any offense or not, were denigrated, humiliated and abused, often with staggering brutality," it said. "It was violence for the sake of violence.'

The ANC commission heard testimony from former ANC detainees who began speaking out last year after they were released from the camps and allowed to return to South Africa.

The ANC had branded the men "notorious traitors," apprehended as secret agents, spies, agents provocateurs and hired assassins employed by the South African security forces. But the charges against most of the men were never proved.

The accusations of human rights abuses stung the ANC, which prided itself on holding the moral high ground in its campaign against the white-minority government, which used brutality to maintain apartheid.

It was especially embarrassing because the ANC has sought to put pressure on the government to expose abuses committed by security agents in the name of apartheid.

Some ANC military leaders have admitted that human rights violations took place in the organization's camps, but they sought to explain by saying their forces were being heavily infiltrated by the South African security agency.

"Looking at the situation in retrospect, many of the transgressions committed by the ANC must be understood in the context in which they occurred," said Mr. Mandela. "Nonetheless they are inexcusable."

He said the ANC accepts full responsibility for the abuses and intends to identify those responsible.

The commission of inquiry did not list the names of any officials accused of torturing ANC prisoners, but it said some of the same names came up repeatedly during testimony by former prisoners.

It said one ANC military leader candidly admitted that he had participated in the beating of suspects in 1981. He was identified as Mzwai Piliso, the head of the ANC's department of intelligence and security until 1987.

The commission recommended that victims be compensated for the "physical and psychological trauma" they suffered. It said witnesses who were detained without trial should have the allegations withdrawn by the ANC because they continued to be stigmatized and ostracized by their communities.

The panel of lawyers also recommended that "urgent and immediate attention be given to identifying and dealing with those responsible for the maltreatment of detainees." It said those people should never hold a position of power in the ANC again.

Mr. Mandela wouldn't commit to removing the perpetrators from ANC positions, saying the decision would be made after an independent commission completes the work started by the panel of lawyers.

"We regret the fact that abuses were committed, but in no country and no government can abuses be totally avoided. But we have learned from our mistakes and are determined to take precautions to ensure that they do not happen again," he said.

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