South Africa's Truth Commission travels to hear apartheid abuses
Some victims' families angry at amnesty plan
December 27, 1996
Web posted at: 8:10 p.m. EST (0110 GMT)
From Bureau Chief Mike Hanna
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- South Africa's mission to
uncover the misdeeds committed during apartheid continued
this week, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission went on
the road to gather information from people who witnessed
Since the commission began traveling, it has heard testimony
from thousands of South Africans. Sibongane Malgas arrived
in a wheelchair to tell his story. His son was murdered by
South African security forces, he said, while he himself was
bound, blinded and crippled during brutal police
"A stick was put behind my knees, and I was spun like a
helicopter, and all the time the mask suffocated me," he
It was too much for even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the head of
the commission, to bear. Tutu, a Nobel Prize winner, is
adamant that though the testimony is painful to hear, it must
be confronted, so the nation can begin to heal.
"We must face this ghastly past and not pretend it never
happened, and face up to the beast," he said. "And then,
shut the door and say we are going to move together into this
glorious future." (253K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Testimony comes from across the political spectrum. Whites
as well as blacks told of how they became victims of the
apartheid system, and even people admitting to past crimes
are coming forward. Security force officers who committed
murder in order to protect the white regime are now claiming
amnesty for actions they say were ordered by the government
of the day.
Their statement, read by attorney Willem Brits, read: "We
call upon the previous government and our superiors to
explain certain orders given to us, about which we shall
testify, and to admit to authorizing actions outside the
normal processes of the law."
To date some 4,000 applications for amnesty have been
received. Some are from members of the former guerrilla
Many more are from people who were supposed to uphold law and
order in the South African government.
When he appeared before the Truth Commission, former police
captain Brian Mitchell had already been convicted on 11
charges of murder, and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
Claiming that he had seen the error of his ways, he begged
the relatives of those he killed to forgive him.
"I understand that forgiveness does not come cheaply. It's
something that comes from the heart. And I can just ask the
people that were involved directly and indirectly, and were
affected by this case, to consider forgiving me," Mitchell
Brian Mitchell was forgiven and set free by the Truth
Some victims' families, like the Mxenges family, remain
deeply opposed to the liberation of self-confessed killers.
Churchill Mxenge's brother and sister-in-law were killed by
security policemen who are now seeking amnesty. As Churchill
stood at his brother's grave in a South Africa cemetery, he
said he was angry at the ANC government and its Truth
Commission, and not particularly inclined to forgive.
"As it is now, they are simply forcing it down our throats,
and that is what we're objecting to," Mxenge said. "We are
saying justice must be done more, especially when we've got a
government that we've waited for more than 10 years to take
action against the criminals."
For its part, the ANC government, headed by former political
prisoner Nelson Mandela, says it will never forget those who
died in the struggle against apartheid. Yet, as President
Mandela signs the country's new constitution, he continues to
support the Truth Commission and its amnesty procedures,
agreeing to an extended deadline for applications as well as
backing down on a previous refusal to extend the amnesty
period until April 1994.
His decision will allow right-wingers who set off a wave of
bombings shortly before the country's first democratic
elections to also apply for amnesty. More than 20 people
were killed in the series of attacks, for which a number of
whites have been convicted and sentenced to long jail terms.
Desmond Tutu remains adamant that reconciliation and amnesty
are the right course for the country. And, he says, the
vision of reconciliation he treasured at the beginning of the
hearings so many months ago is being realized. "People who
have suffered so much ... bowl you over with their generosity
of spirit as they say, 'We are willing to forgive,'" he said.
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