Truth commission to list barrage of S. Africa atrocities Document reportedly condemns abuses by ANC as well as white leaders

October 27, 1998|By NEWSDAY

PRETORIA, South Africa -- It stands knee-high, weighs nearly 18 pounds and was three years in the making. Now, three days before its formal release, the report of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is sparking a national furor as players in the apartheid battle scramble to clear their names in advance of a barrage of damaging findings.

News reports said yesterday that the 3,500-page document would say President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, among others, committed gross human rights abuses from 1960 to May 1994, the period covered by the commission's investigations. Most of the accusations of alleged abuses are expected to focus on treatment of prisoners held by the ANC at its clandestine camps in neighboring countries during those years, when the group waged a guerrilla war against South Africa's white-minority government.

But the document also reportedly criticizes the ANC for allowing civilians to become targets in its bombing campaign and says it must bear responsibility for the actions of Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was accused of waging a reign of terror in the black township of Soweto in the years before Mandela's 1990 release from prison.

This won't be the first time the ANC has been accused of atrocities against its enemies. In 1992, the ANC admitted that torture and "staggering brutality" were common at some of its camps, but then, as now, it said such excesses were an unavoidable outgrowth of a war foisted upon the group by apartheid's rulers.

"Ours was a just war," ANC spokesman Thabo Masebe said in insisting the group was not worried about the commission's conclusions.

The harshest criticism is expected to be aimed at the white leaders who for decades used the police, army and a network of civilian spies to try to crush black liberation groups and maintain apartheid. Former President F. W. de Klerk is hoping to block the release of at least some portions of the report implicating him in bombings of ANC targets.

The commission was born out of the ashes of apartheid in 1995, when the new black-led government decided that only through a process of public confessions and forgiveness could the country come to terms with its past and build a future free of racial hatred. In thousands of hearings, former police officers, guerrillas, soldiers, government officials and one former president, de Klerk, answered questions about their activities during the apartheid era.

Some confessed gruesome deeds and begged forgiveness from their victims' families.

Others, such as de Klerk and Madikizela-Mandela, stubbornly maintained they were innocent of any wrongdoing. The commission report could recommend criminal prosecution for them.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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