S. Africa's reconciliation panel rejects amnesty for Hani killers

Mandela's likely successor was assassinated in 1993

2 men imprisoned for life

April 08, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- This country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission rejected amnesty yesterday for the 1993 right-wing killers of Communist Party chief Chris Hani, who was emerging as a potential successor to Nelson Mandela as a national leader.

The committee ruled that the two confessed assassins had failed to meet the prerequisites of amnesty: full disclosure and political motivation for their crime.

The commission's investigative phase into human rights violations during the apartheid era ended last year, but its amnesty committee continues to hear applications from the perpetrators of atrocities.

The thrust of the commission's work has been to attempt to lay South Africa's brutal, racist past to rest by establishing the awful record without exacting retribution.

To achieve this the commission has offered amnesty only to those who make a full confession and prove political motivation. It has not insisted on contrition. Many of those found guilty of atrocities have yet to apply.

The gunning down of Hani in the driveway of his home was one of the most traumatic of murders investigated by the commission.

Former Conservative Party member of Parliament Clive Derby-Lewis and Polish immigrant Janusz Walus are serving life sentences for the killing. They were originally sentenced to death, but capital punishment was outlawed by the Mandela government after its election in 1994, and their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

They told the commission they wanted the assassination to "plunge the country into chaos" and facilitate a right-wing takeover.

They claimed they were acting on orders, but the truth commission's final report, published in October, said: "The commission was unable to establish that the two murderers took orders from international groups, security forces or from higher up in the right-wing echelons."

By finding that the two acted alone, the commission undermined their political motivation. The amnesty committee said yesterday that the two were not acting on the instructions of the Conservative Party and rejected Walus' claim that he was acting on the orders of Derby-Lewis. It said they collaborated in the murder.

The Afrikaner-supported Freedom Front said the amnesty rejection showed that the truth commission was biased against right-wingers. Derby-Lewis' wife, Gaye, said an appeal would be made to the courts.

Hani, secretary-general of the Communist Party, was a charismatic politician with a wide following. He was viewed as a potential heir to Mandela, who was released from prison three years before the assassination and became president a year after it.

As a memorial, Hani's name has been given to the largest hospital in Soweto, the black township outside of Johannesburg that was a hotbed of anti-apartheid activism.

Communist Party officials welcomed the amnesty rejection, saying the two killers had been evasive, less than truthful and even arrogant during their testimony.

"We support the idea of amnesty in general, but it has to be a principled amnesty, it has to be principled reconciliation, and we think the TRC [truth commission] has done the whole TRC process a favor on this one," said Jeremy Cronin.

On Tuesday, the commission turned down amnesty for 79 senior African National Congress members, including several current Cabinet ministers.

The commission said the applicants had applied out of a general feeling of responsibility for acts of their supporters, but it could only give amnesty for specific incidents.

Last month 27 other ANC amnesty applications -- including one from Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Mandela's heir apparent -- were rejected for the same reason.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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