ANC Admits to Abuses of Rights
Pretoria is likely to face additional pressure for disclosure following ANC acceptance of report on torture
JOHANNESBURG — THE decision by the African National Congress (ANC) to accept responsibility for human rights abuses in its detention camps is expected to increase pressure on South Africa's government to identify state officials guilty of political crimes and could hasten an amnesty deal, experts and diplomats say.
"The ANC has begun a cautious process of disclosure which puts it a step ahead of the government," says political scientist Tom Lodge of the liberal University of the Witwatersrand.
ANC President Nelson Mandela said Oct. 19 that the torture and maltreatment of ANC detainees was "inexcusable" and he vowed that an independent body would be appointed "as a matter of urgency" to identify the culprits and recommend what action should be taken against them.
Mr. Mandela was reacting to a 74-page report by an ANC-appointed commission of inquiry that found that members of the ANC security department had committed sustained human rights violations against congress dissidents and members it suspected of working for the state. The three-person commission included two ANC members.
"What we know about the actions of state officials has been squeezed out of them in the courts," says Professor Lodge. "I think the ANC's internal inquiry will help the parties to reach a deal on amnesty. It becomes a lot easier if both sides have publicly identified skeletons in their cupboards."
But President Frede-rik de Klerk has scotch-ed expectations that government would fol-low the same course. He recently introduced a bill in the minority Parliament to provide amnesty for state officials on the basis of voluntary and confidential disclosure of their actions.
Mr. De Klerk, who is under pressure from his security forces to negotiate a blanket amnesty with the ANC, told a meeting of lawyers in Pretoria Oct. 19 that he knew of no state official or security-force member who had committed a crime and that the government did not have a list of state officials requiring amnesty.
"There might be such individuals," De Klerk said. "But I don't know who they are. I and my colleagues have never been party to decisions to commit crimes." Amnesty bill defeated
The Further Indemnity Bill, as the amnesty measure is known, failed to win approval from Parliament Oct. 20 when the ruling party in the minority Indians' house and the opposition party in the mixed-race "colored" house rejected the bill, insisting that there should be public disclosure of past crimes. Anti-apartheid groups and white liberals have rejected the bill as an attempt to introduce a general amnesty via the back-door. The ANC says only a multiracial interim government can decide on an amnesty.
A special session of Parliament was extended Oct. 20 in a bid to reintroduce the bill after 12 amendments had been proposed by a joint committee on justice.
A central finding of the ANC commission on the maltreatment of detainees was that "no person that is guilty of committing atrocities should ever again be allowed to assume a position of power." It said that several people accused of "serious brutality" were still employed by the ANC and that a list would be given to Mandela.
The abuses occurred mainly in ANC camps in Angola - and to a lesser extent in Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania - during the 1980s.
"We regret the fact that abuses were committed. But in no country and in no government can abuses be totally evaded," Mandela said. "We have learned from our past mistakes and we are determined to ensure that these abuses do not recur." Mandela added that the transgressions had to be seen in the context of the difficult circumstances that prevailed in exile.
But Mandela stopped short of making a direct apology to the victims of ANC torture or agreeing to compensation. He also said it would be "unfair" at this stage to release the names of those accused of abuse in testimony heard by the commission.
The report named only one culprit - former ANC security chief Mzwai Piliso who, it said, testified reluctantly. Mr. Piliso is a serving ANC official.
"He candidly admitted his personal participation in the beating of suspects in 1981," the report says. Suspects in an assassination plot against senior ANC members were beaten on the soles of their feet in Piliso's presence, it says. ANC force unchecked
Evidence by some ANC officials made clear that the ANC's security department had become "a law unto itself" that thwarted repeated attempts to make it accountable for its actions.
The report was a sequel to allegations made by 32 former ANC detainees who returned to South Africa in August last year. Mandela conceded at the time that there had been torture in ANC detention centers and he ordered an investigation of the charges.
Human rights lawyers say public disclosure by a "truth commission" - as was used in Chile and El Salvador - is the only way that the granting of amnesty can lead to reconciliation.