JOHANNESBURG — THE African National Congress (ANC) is facing pressure from human rights organizations and dissidents in its own ranks to come clean on alleged human rights abuses by its security wing in exile detention centers during the 1980s.
Concern about allegations of beatings, torture, and executions has intensified following disclosures by South African Communist Party General Secretary Chris Hani, former chief of staff of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).
In a June interview in the left-wing monthly Work-in-Progress, Mr. Hani conceded that innocent dissenters had been detained by the ANC's security wing, Mbokodo, in camps throughout Africa during a period of "paranoia and hysteria [in the ANC] about the ability of the [Pretoria] regime to send in its agents."
Former ANC dissidents, who returned to South Africa 10 months ago, claim that scores of detainees are still missing and that some lie in shallow graves in Uganda and other African states.
Hani said it was vital that in a post-apartheid constitution parliament should demand control and accountability of the state security apparatus. "Never again in this country should we give unchecked powers to the security." A three-person commission appointed by the ANC to look into allegations of mistreatment has held one hearing and is due to hold a second this month and a third in August.
Meanwhile, a delegation of church leaders which had planned to visit ANC camps in several African states at the end of June has been "indefinitely postponed" to allow time to trace the families of missing detainees.
The ANC announced in August last year that it had freed all its detainees, but Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, subsequently received information about several ANC detainees in Tanzania.
Amnesty backed a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) earlier this year to be granted access to the ANC camps. Last month - after a long silence - the ANC said that both Amnesty and the ICRC would be welcome to visit its camps. The ANC also invited Amnesty and the International Commission of Jurists to attend and observe its internal inquiry into alleged human rights abuses.
London-based Amnesty director for Southern Africa Richard Carver said the organization had not yet replied to the ANC invitation. "Our concern is not only for the fate of the detainees but the implications for the future," he said. "Individuals responsible for the malpractices need to be identified and steps taken to ensure that they would not occupy positions of law and order enforcement in a future administration."
Most of the allegations of former ANC detainees relate to a notorious detention center known as Quatro in central Angola, where ANC members suspected of spying for Pretoria were held and interrogated. Until 1989, Angola was host to most of the ANC's military training camps.
The establishment of Quatro in the early 1980s coincided with the exposure of a spy ring in the upper echelons of the ANC and its military wing. There was subsequently a tightening of ANC security and hundreds of suspects were detained and interrogated.
"I was beaten every day for weeks on end on suspicion that I had worked for the South African intelligence services," says Derrick Headbush, a former Quatro detainee who was moved to a barbed-wire encircled camp in northern Uganda in early 1989.
Mr. Headbush was among scores of detainees who were freed after Pretoria signed a protocol with Angola and Cuba in New York in December 1988 which paved the way for Namibia's independence.
Part of Pretoria's price for relinquishing control of Namibia was that all ANC military camps in Angola should be dismantled.
When allegations of torture by ANC security officials first surfaced in a British newspaper in April 1990, ANC President Nelson Mandela admitted that torture had taken place and promised an investigation.
The ANC has undertaken to publish the report of its internal inquiry subject to the deletion of names of ANC members whose security could be jeopardized.
But the Returned Exiles Coordinating Committee, an ad hoc group representing former ANC detainees, says it will not testify before the commission and has demanded an independent judicial commission.
"We suspect that the ANC will attempt to use its normal methods of bribery and threats to get the answers it wants," says Patrick Hlongwane, a dissident leader. Dissidents complain that the three commission lawyers are all sympathetic to the ANC and unlikely to insist on a full probe.
At least two senior ANC officials were detained by the Mbokodo at the peak of their influence. One, Pallo Jordan, is now the ANC's director of Information and Publicity. The second, Thami Zulu, a military commander, died of poisoning two days after being freed from 18 months of detention by ANC security officials in 1989. The findings of a commission of inquiry into his death have never been released.