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5 November 1998 Edition

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Report legitimises ANC's quest for freedom

Truth and Reconciliation report published

By Mary Maguire

The 3500 pages might have seemed at first sight too detailed. But the subject has been too long censored. The final report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to president Nelson Mandela last Friday in Johannesburg is in many ways the collective album of the oppressed and terror-bound nation during the apartheid regime. More than the fruit of a process designed to encourage reconciliation, the report acknowledges the legitimacy of the freedom struggle. By recognising the aims and methods of President PK Botha's terror reign, it gives full credit to the ANC's freedom struggle.

But the media's first reflex was to point the finger at the ANC for attempting to prevent the release of the report. On front pages, this made headlines over the testimony of the 21,000 victims that have been testifying since the Commission started its hearings in April 1996.

The international media managed to focus on just three lines of the report where it was stated that ``the ANC and its organs.. committed gross violations of human rights in the course of their political activities and armed struggle.'' Editorialists striving to find an impossible equality for the crimes against humanity commited by governmental death squads missed the point: except for a chapter focusing on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the whole report is a a stinging prosecution case against the state that brutalised South Africa for more than 34 years.

Not only is the liberation movement led by Nelson Mandela decriminalised, it is given full credit for the manner in which it led its struggle. The report states that uMkhonto we Sizwe (South Africa's liberation army) tried to conduct its armed struggle by attempting to respect the Geneva convention (on human rights) to which it had subscribed.

If the ANC was the media's focus, one detail seemed to have been forgotten: one page was blanked out following former President FW de Klerk's success in having findings implicating him in ``state-sponsored terrorism'' removed.

But in page after page, the report sheds light on the murderous methods and objectives of former President PW Botha's apartheid state: ``The South African state in the period from the late 1970s to early 1990s became involved in activities of criminal nature when, amongst other things, it knowingly planned, undertook, condoned and covered up the commission of unlawful acts, including extra-judicial killings of political opponents and others, inside and outside South Africa.''

These include the widespread use of torture, abduction, arson and sabotage. Using allies such as former minister of Law Adriaan Vlok and former police Commissioner Johan van der Merwe, he issued orders to the State Security Council (SSC), the armed wing of apartheid. Bloody crackdowns on opposition activists and increased military repression by the so-called security forces became routine.

According to various human rights groups, up to 40,000 people were held without trial during ``states of emergency'' imposed by Botha at various times between 1986 and 1989: ``the state, in the form of the South African governement, the civil service and its security forces, in the period 1960-90 sought to protect the power and privilege of a racial minority.''

``Racism therefore constituted the motivation core of the South African political order, an attitude largely endorsed by the investment and other policies of South Africa's major trading partners in this period''.

It goes on to say: ``A consequence of this racism was that white citizens in general adopted a dehumanising position towards black citizens and largely labelled them as the enemy. This created a climate in which gross atrocities committed against them were seen as legitimate... As a military approach to policing gained ascendancy inside South Africa from the mid-1980s, so did the incidence of killing or ``eliminating'' activists opposed to the government.

Among the propositions of the TRC is the idea of a series of taxes on business corporations to offset apartheid's legacy of poverty. It recommends a wealth tax and a one-off levy on personal and corporate income.

Israel delaying agreement

Yasser Arafat may take the delay with good grace. But the fact is that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is already asking for time in implementing the Wye summit pact, sending negative signals about his will to truly engage in the peace deal.

Netanyahu said he would ``try'' to stick to the accord's 12-week timetable and carry out the first pull-out in the West Bank as close as possible to its agreed date of 16 November.

The agreement was to take effect at midnight on Monday. But Netanyahu suddenly said the deal needs to be ratified by his cabinet and parliament. The cabinet was scheduled to start the debate on Tuesday and the parliamentary session is set for 11-12 November.

Then another excuse. Netanyahu claimed that the cabinet could not convene to approve the deal until the Palestinians had presented a complete blueprint for fighting Islamic militant groups.

The argument seems hollow given the manner in which the Palestinian authority has already cracked down on Hamas activists, clearly signalling its will to implement its commitments. Most importantly, it could delay the liberation of political prisoners.

The delay wouldn't have been as serious if the Israel had not stirred up controversy by claiming that the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories would go ahead. The war over the east Jerusalem district of Ras al-Amud has flared up again. Palestinians have accused Netanyahu of violating the Wye agreement by giving his green light for the construction of 132 housing units.

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