Truth panel fixes blame S. African commission cites whites, blacks for apartheid-era wrongs

'No one with clean hands'

Final report elicits broad-based criticism and calls for healing

October 30, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PRETORIA, South Africa -- After two years of national heart-searching, soul-baring and conscience-clearing, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday delivered a 3,500-page indictment of the apartheid era, blaming both whites and blacks for gross human rights violations.

"All of South Africa -- rural, urban, black, white, men, women and children -- had been caught up in oppression and resistance that left no one with clean hands," said the TRC's report.

The racist National Party government of the period was identified as the "primary perpetrator" of atrocities, but President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, which now heads the country's first black majority government, also was charged with killings, torture and assaults during its anti-apartheid struggle.

A last-minute attempt by the ANC to block release of the report, which it viewed as "criminalizing" the liberation struggle, was thrown out of court. The ANC complained it was not given a chance to respond to the charges leveled against it.

Mandela, the former ANC leader, distanced himself from the party's court challenge, telling a nationwide television audience: accept this report as it is, with all its imperfections."

Accepting the five-volume report from TRC chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu in front of political leaders, diplomats and 40 representative victims of human rights abuses here, he said: "We are extricating ourselves from a system that insulted our common humanity by dividing us from one another on the basis of race, and setting us against each other."

Tutu, who was sometimes reduced to tears while listening to individual experiences at hearings across what he called this "traumatized and wounded nation," said: "Accept this report as a way, an indispensable way, of healing.

"Let the waters of healing flow from Pretoria today to cleanse our land, to cleanse its people and to bring unity and reconciliation."

Created to lay the nation's bloody and shameful past to rest through a mixture of honesty, confession and forgiveness, the TRC ended its investigation yesterday surrounded by as much controversy as when it held its first hearings in April 1996.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the current leader of the National Party -- which brought apartheid to bear and implemented it with a brutal hand -- boycotted presentation of the report, saying the TRC was dominated by ANC supporters.

So loud was the clamor of court challenges and complaints of the findings, that TRC commissioners were able to assert that they must have been doing something right to elicit such broad-based objections.

In one finding likely to arouse new passions, the TRC accused leaders of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party of collaborating with the apartheid government to protect their own power-base in KwaZulu Natal and undermine the ANC-led liberation struggle.

"The South African government not only welcomed but also actively promoted this covert alliance with Inkatha, as it fell squarely into its response to what it saw as the total revolutionary onslaught against it," said the report.

The new evidence of collusion -- hardly a secret before -- can only render fledgling efforts by the ANC to unify with the IFP more difficult.

The commission was directed to investigate gross human rights violations dating to 1960, offer amnesty to perpetrators in return for full confessions and provide reparation for victims.

In its findings, it endorsed the position in international law that apartheid was "a crime against humanity."

It said that in applying the policies of apartheid, the state was trying to protect the power and privilege of minority whites, adding: "Racism, therefore, constituted the motivating core of the South African political order."

The report said former President P. W. Botha, who was convicted of contempt for refusing to testify to the commission, was accountable for unlawful killings, torture, abductions and other crimes carried out by security forces while he was prime minister and president from 1978 to 1989. Botha has denied involvement in atrocities.

The TRC also planned to link F. W. de Klerk, Botha's successor and the country's last white president, to two major bombing attacks.

He threatened to seek a court interdiction on publication of the charges, which he said were false. Rather than risk delaying publication of its entire report, the TRC ordered the printer to black out the section on de Klerk, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in dismantling apartheid by releasing Mandela from prison, legalizing the ANC and heading the country to its first all-race elections in 1994.

If across-the-board complaints are any measure of evenhandedness, the commission can claim impressive neutrality for its report.

What it cannot claim is to have uncovered the whole truth or to have achieved national reconciliation, the twin mandates in its title.

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