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Landmark Study Lays Bare Abuses of Apartheid Era

S. Africa: Report ANC tried to block condemns white regime, but also censures black activists who used violence.


PRETORIA, South Africa — In a public damnation of the evils perpetrated under apartheid, South Africa's truth commission Thursday released its final report after the ruling African National Congress lost an eleventh-hour court battle to keep it under wraps.

The milestone document lays blame for killings, beatings and torture on the former, white-minority regime, which it identifies as the No. 1 villain of the country's racist past. It says the apartheid state's "criminal misconduct" spanned the tenures of Presidents Pieter W. Botha and Frederik W. De Klerk, the country's last white rulers, and flourished in a "prevailing culture of impunity."

In equally incriminating language, the commission accuses several liberation groups, including the ANC, of gross human rights violations in their armed struggle to end white rule. While acknowledging the insurgents were "motivated by a just cause," the commission concludes that they used unnecessary violence and recommends that they apologize to their victims.

"We have not been facile or superficial, for we have heeded the cry of the prophet against those who healed the sickness of their people superficially, crying peace, peace, where there was no peace," retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said in releasing the document.

"Many will be upset by this report," Tutu said. "Some have sought to discredit it preemptively. Even if they were to succeed, what is that to the point?"

Almost everyone agrees that the commission did not foster reconciliation, the second part of its mandate, during its review of crimes committed during apartheid.

However, the report includes a series of less sensational but still controversial recommendations about achieving reconciliation that may in the long term prove more significant than its verdict on the past.

In an effort to close the "intolerance gap" between rich and poor, it urged the government to consider new taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. One suggestion calls for companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to contribute 1% of their market capitalization.

Other money-raising ideas include retroactive surcharges on corporate profits and on "golden handshake" retirement packages paid to senior civil servants from the apartheid era. The commission also recommends that the government consider reneging on the previous regime's debt payments, using the money instead for reparations, reconstruction and development.

"It will be impossible to create a meaningful human rights culture without high priority being given to economic justice by the public and private sectors," the report said.

The commission also called for measures to strengthen the independence of the media, train judges and other court officials in constitutional and human rights issues, and improve education for the country's poorest students.

The 2,739-page report, posted on the Internet at, was presented to President Nelson Mandela at a Pretoria municipal building in a low-key ceremony noticeably dampened by the frantic ANC court action. The formal handover came just two hours after a Cape Town judge dismissed a bid by the ANC to block the report because of findings that the ANC committed human rights abuses, including torture and murder both before and after the party was legalized in 1990.

The ANC leadership complained that the statements were inaccurate and effectively criminalized a just liberation struggle. Judge Wilfred Thring threw out the case after deliberating for less than half an hour. The judge did not give reasons for the ruling but ordered the ANC to pay the costs of the truth commission's lawyers.

Among the ANC's apparent concerns was the report's lengthy discussion of Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was once the darling of the liberation struggle but was convicted in 1991 of kidnapping.

The report says Madikizela-Mandela lied in her kidnapping trial about her whereabouts on the night that a young Soweto activist, Stompie Seipei, was murdered by a gang of bodyguards known as the Mandela United Football Club.

ANC defenders of Madikizela-Mandela say the report misrepresents her activities by failing to put them in the context of the troubled times. The commissioners showed little sympathy for such objections.

The truth panel was equally harsh on some top leaders of the white-minority regime, although its findings about De Klerk were blacked out because of a court challenge by the Nobel laureate. However, the report made clear--without mentioning De Klerk by name--that the former president served during a period when "the South African state ventured into the realm of criminal misconduct."

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