Fallout from 'Inkathagate' forces concessions

Wednesday, August 28, 1991

By Norm Dixon

Revelations that the South African government has secretly directed millions of rands to the Inkatha organisation, responsible for the deaths of thousands in murderous attacks in black townships, has put the de Klerk regime on the back foot and forced it to make concessions to the democratic movement.

The disclosures have severely damaged the government's credibility abroad and what little it has within the country. The regime faces a revitalised anti-apartheid movement committed to mass action following the African National Congress' national conference in July. Moves to build a united Patriotic Front of all anti-apartheid forces are gathering strength.

The scandal has slowed moves to lift international economic sanctions. Japan, which was close to removing sanctions in early August, now says it will wait for other countries to do so. Spain announced in late July that it will stop its push for the European Community to drop sanctions. The Commonwealth has also suspended moves to begin lifting sanctions. Washington, however, is holding firm on its decision to end them.

Until now, the government has refused to grant a general amnesty to the estimated 40,000 exiles, insisting that each apply individually for indemnity. The government's definition of political offences was extremely restricted and left many exiled fighters of Umkhonto we Sizwe open to arrest and prosecution for "criminal" offences in the course of fighting apartheid.

Pretoria had also refused to allow the United Nations High Commission for Refugees access to returning exiles.

In Geneva on August 16, representatives of the South African government and the UNHCR agreed to an amnesty for all South Africans who had left before October 8, 1990. Cases of people who had fled since then would also be considered one by one. The agreement allowed the UNHCR to establish an office in South Africa — the first UN presence in the country for 30 years — to organise the return.

While ANC spokespeople initially were positive about the agreement, especially the UNHCR role in the repatriation, uncertainty was later expressed about the agreement's distinction between "political" and "criminal" offences.

This concern was provoked by apparently conflicting statements of the signatories. The head of the Africa division of the UNHCR, Nicolas Bwakira, insisted that a general amnesty had been agreed to, while the South African foreign minister, Pik

Botha, said that amnesty remained the government's "prerogative" and did not apply to "common-law crimes".

In another concession, the newly appointed education minister, Sam de Beer, has agreed to allow disused white schools to be opened to black students. The decision came as police attempted to prevent black students from occupying three closed white schools near Johannesburg. Almost 100 people were arrested, and least one student was shot dead by police.

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