Truth Commission report shakes up politics



Truth Commission report shakes up politics

By Norm Dixon

The final report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), released on October 29 by chairperson Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has presented a damning indictment of the viciously racist apartheid state, its leaders and allies. The report found that brutal repression and gross human rights violations were not simply incidental to apartheid, but integral to it.

The 3500-page, five-volume report followed an intensive 30 months of public hearings and investigations.

TRC commissioners conducted 140 hearings in 61 towns, and considered statements from 21,000 people, overwhelmingly victims of the apartheid state. At least 37,000 gross human rights violations were reported to the commission.

The TRC has the power to grant amnesty to those who confess to "politically motivated crimes" during apartheid. The commission received more than 7000 amnesty applications, granted amnesty to 125 applicants and rejected 4570; the rest are to be decided before March.

PictureThe final report directly implicated 400 people in human rights violations.

The TRC was controversial from its launch in 1995. Many black South Africans were cynical because few senior-level apartheid-era political and military leaders appeared or confessed to ordering atrocities.

The granting of amnesty to some lower-level security operatives — cold-blooded killers — caused anger. Most came forward only after being named by others seeking amnesty.


The TRC final report said that "the recognition of apartheid as a crime against humanity remains a fundamental starting point for reconciliation".

It found that the liberation movements' struggle against the apartheid state was justified and legitimate, although it did take issue with some specific actions and tactics.

PictureThe TRC's primary finding was that the "predominant portion of gross violations of human rights was committed by the former state through its security and law enforcement agencies. The South African state ... from the late 1970s to the early 1990s ... knowingly planned, undertook, condoned and covered up the commission of unlawful acts, including the extrajudicial killing of political opponents inside and outside South Africa."

During this period, South Africa was ruled by National Party presidents P.W. Botha (until 1989) and F.W. de Klerk (until 1994).

The TRC rejected claims by de Klerk that political killings were undertaken by "rogue" elements in the police and security forces. It identified the shadowy State Security Council (SSC) as the body that directed the repression.

The SSC oversaw the defence of apartheid in the wake of the 1976 Soweto uprising and the upsurge in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s. The SSC approved all significant security operations, including assassinations and armed raids beyond South Africa's borders.

The highest officials of the state sat on the SSC, including the president, senior cabinet ministers, the head of each branch of the armed forces and intelligence services and the commissioner of police.

Senior members of the National Party who served on the SSC include P.W. Botha, de Klerk, former foreign minister Pik Botha, former defence minister Magnus Malan, former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok and the former premier of Western Cape province, Hernus Kriel.

The TRC found: "Certain members of the SSC (the State President, Minister of Defence, Minister for Law and Order) did foresee that the use of words such as 'take out', 'wipe out', 'eradicate' and 'eliminate' [in the orders the SSC issued] would result in the killing of political opponents. They are therefore responsible for deliberate planning which caused gross violation of human rights."

The TRC generously decided that other SSC members, "particularly those not involved in security matters [such as de Klerk who served on the SSC while education minister], did not foresee that the use of such words would result in killings, but nevertheless remain politically and morally accountable for the deaths that occurred".

Botha and de Klerk

The TRC charged that P.W. Botha personally ordered the bombing of the ANC's London office in 1987 and the 1988 bombing of Khotso House, the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches. During Botha's reign, thousands were detained without trial and hundreds of protesters killed.

Botha defied an order to appear before the TRC to answer questions about the SSC.

De Klerk went to court at the 11th hour to have references that implicated him deleted. The TRC agreed to black out sections of the report until a court hearing next March. "The name will eventually appear", Tutu told the press.

The sections excised stated that de Klerk, while not directly ordering the Khotso House bombing, failed to take action against the perpetrators when he subsequently learned of it. The TRC charged that de Klerk covered up the terrorist bombing.

The full extent of the crimes of the SSC — and how much de Klerk and other supposedly "unaware" members really knew — may never be known. The TRC discovered that "scores of tons" of documents related to the security forces and intelligence agencies, covert operations, informer networks and other sensitive material had been systematically destroyed until as late as 1996.

While the destruction of documents made it impossible to prove that a "third force" directed by the state existed after 1990, the TRC did find that "a network of security and ex-security force operatives, often acting in conjunction with right-wing elements and/or sections of Inkatha, fomented, initiated, facilitated and engaged in violence which resulted in gross violations of human rights, including random and targeted killings".

This network was active until the 1994 elections that brought the ANC-led government to power. In that period, while de Klerk was president and in command of the security forces and police, more than half the 9043 killings reported to the TRC took place.

Buthelezi, apartheid ally

The TRC concluded that Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party was the "foremost perpetrator of human right violations during the 1990-1994 period. Indeed, IFP violations constituted almost 50% of violations reported (3800 killings)".

Inkatha was an ally of the apartheid state, the TRC found. In 1986, the South African Defence Force "conspired with Inkatha" to train and deploy illegal, covert hit squads targeting "persons and organisations perceived to be opposed to both the South African government and Inkatha".

This "led to gross violations of human rights, including killing, attempted killing and severe ill treatment. The commission finds the following people, among others accountable for such violations: Mr PW Botha, General Magnus Malan, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi ..."

The so-called independent homelands, or bantustans, like Buthelezi's KwaZulu, were a "cornerstone" of apartheid, the TRC observed.

"As the only serving minister of police in the KwaZulu government ... and chief minister during the 13-year existence of the KwaZulu police", Buthelezi was accountable for the many massacres carried out by the hit-squads as well as abuses within KwaZulu.

Apartheid and big business

A key finding was that big capitalist corporations were "central to the economy that sustained the South African state during the apartheid years ... Most businesses benefited from operating in a racially structured context."

The TRC said that big industries, most notably the mining industry, helped to design and implement apartheid policies and colluded with the security services to clamp down on trade union activity, directly resulting in gross human rights violations.

The TRC recommended that the government consider ways to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, such as a wealth tax, a one-off levy on corporate and private income, a retrospective surcharge on corporate profits and other taxes.

The creation of a "business reconciliation fund", administered by business, to help black entrepreneurs who were victims of apartheid was suggested. This would be funded by a donation of 1% of the stock exchange's market capitalisation — about US$1.7 billion.

Not surprisingly, big business rejected any new taxes on the wealth it has accumulated from the backs of super-exploited black labour, while not ruling out a fund to help the creation of a black capitalist class.

The TRC also found that other pillars of the capitalist establishment, who retain their position in society, supported and collaborated with the apartheid system. It mentioned the big business mass media, the mainstream churches and the judiciary and legal profession.

Many of the TRC's recommendations will place the African National Congress cabinet in a dilemma because to implement them will require a sharp departure from its rightward political direction.

The recommendation that those responsible for violations of human rights who failed to apply for amnesty, did not tell the truth or had their applications rejected be prosecuted — such as F.W. de Klerk, P.W. Botha, Magnus Malan — would upset parts of the delicate coexistence deal with the former apartheid rulers and the capitalist establishment.

Closer to the hearts of the ANC leadership, prosecution of Buthelezi will torpedo the hopes of the ANC right that the IFP and ANC can merge into a single party.

Buthelezi is already third in command of the South African government (he ordered the recent invasion of Lesotho). Even before the TRC report was released, ANC sources told Business Day newspaper that it would reject findings against the IFP and Buthelezi.

New taxes and charges on big business and the wealthy would be contrary to the ANC government's pro-business policies.

Theuns Elof, chief executive of the National Business Initiative, which brings together South Africa's biggest corporations to "coordinate social spending" and reconciliation, said that in discussions with the government the NBI had been assured there would be no extra taxes to fund reparations.

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