JOHANNESBURG — A COMMISSION appointed by the African National Congress in South Africa has found that human rights abuses in its detention centers in exile were widespread. The commission's report, which was published Aug. 23 by the ANC, has been broadly welcomed in diplomatic and academic circles as an act of candid self-criticism.
"The ANC is to be commended for coming clean," says Lloyd Vogelman, director of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg. "It is not part of the political tradition in South Africa for political organizations to be self-critical."
Political scientists say the report will tend to strengthen the position of younger, internal ANC activists.
The older generation of exiles were all implicated to some extent in the abuses.
The report implicated at least two senior ANC officials in the violation of detainees' rights - executive member and former intelligence chief Jacob Zuma and commander of the ANC's military wing Joe Modise.
Mr. Modise, who has been a key figure in negotiations over a new national defense force, could be forced to retire from politics. He is not a popular figure in ANC leadership ranks and is not highly regarded in diplomatic circles.
But Mr. Zuma is regarded as a competent official and someone who could play a key role in a reconstructed police force.
In terms of the ANC's code, the maximum penalty offenders can face is suspension or expulsion from the organization.
The report also implicated several security officials in human rights violations, including three members of the ANC's security department.
It found that the ANC's notorious former rehabilitation center in Angola, known as Quatro, had become the ANC heart-of-darkness, where torture, execution, arbitrary detention, and inhuman treatment took place. Intended as a center for rehabilitating spies, the commission found that Quatro became a dumping ground for dissenters and "misfits."
The report confirmed persistent allegations by former detainees and the findings of a milder internal report published by the ANC in January this year after the names of offenders were deleted.
ANC President Nelson Mandela, who admitted three years ago that torture had occurred in the ANC's detention centers in the 1980s, appointed the commission in January in the wake of criticism that the internal probe had been a coverup.
Mr. Mandela said on Aug. 23 that the ANC was taking the report and its recommendations "very seriously.... We have taken the first important step of taking the public into our confidence as to what the commission has recommended."
The commission is headed by prominent black businessman Sam Motsuenyane and aided by a Zimbabwean judge and US lawyer Margaret Burnham. It has recommended that disciplinary action be taken against officials.
The commission also recommended that the ANC apologize and pay compensation to victims of abuse, establish a claims settlement agency to determine awards to those abused and the families of those who were executed, and reintegrate into its ranks those former detainees who wanted to rejoin the ANC.
It also recommended that the ANC keep relatives informed of ongoing investigations into those found to be missing in the camps.
ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid activist who remained inside the country and is not implicated in the abuses, took the unusual step of making the recommendations public before a meeting of the ANC's executive committee the weekend of Aug. 21. The committee will decide on how to respond to the report.
"This will make it much more difficult for the executive to act half-heartedly in implementing the recommendations," a Western diplomat says.
In the past, exiled ANC members have criticized the probes as a witch hunt and argued that conditions in detention centers were a result of the almost impossible circumstances in which the ANC was forced to operate in exile.
By contrast, ANC members who remained in South Africa have given their full support to the probe and are eager to have the organization's shadowy past made known.
Reacting to the report, the ruling National Party said the findings showed that the ANC could not rule the country alone. The NP called on the ANC to expose the perpetrators of abuse to the normal legal process.