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ANC apologizes for deaths in anti-apartheid fight

But says struggle was justified

May 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:14 a.m. EDT (1514 GMT)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNN) -- The African National Congress formally apologized Monday for the killing of civilians by its guerrilla forces during the ANC's three-decade struggle against apartheid.

"We regret the deaths and injuries to civilians arising from armed actions. We apologize to the next-of-kin for the suffering and hurt," said a statement from the ANC to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to investigate apartheid-era abuses and promote reconciliation among South Africans of all races.

The ANC, which was voted into power after white-minority rule ended in 1994, admitted to a campaign of bombings and assassinations, including the deaths of seven anti-apartheid activists killed for betraying the cause.

Top ANC officials, including Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Defense Minister Joe Modise and Justice Minister Dullah Omar, were expected to appear before the commission later in the day to answer questions about the ANC's disclosures.

ANC says some guerrillas insufficiently trained

The ANC repeated its position that the armed struggle against the country's white-ruled government, which began in 1960, was a just war and that civilians had not been deliberately targeted.

But the ANC statement said some of its guerrillas weren't sufficiently trained and "were never thoroughly under the discipline of the ANC."

"At times insufficient training could have resulted in situations in which (guerrillas) were not able to ensure that explosions took place at the intended time," the statement said.

Two bombings in particular were cited in the ANC's statement as having been mistimed -- an attack on a Durban bar that killed three and wounded 60 and a 1983 bombing of Air Force headquarters in Pretoria, in which 19 people died.

The latter attack was ordered by former ANC president Oliver Tambo, now dead, in retaliation for a raid by South African forces into neighboring Lesotho in which 42 ANC supporters were killed.

"With the increasingly indiscriminate attacks on neighboring states and the viciousness of attacks on South African civilians by the security forces, it was decided by special operations command to attack military personnel," the statement said.

40 top ANC officials apply for amnesty

Saturday was the deadline for people to apply to the commission for amnesty from criminal prosecution or civil litigation stemming from apartheid-era crimes. About 8,000 people applied, including 40 top officials of the ANC.

President Nelson Mandela, who was in prison during most of the ANC's fight against apartheid, did not apply. Neither did former presidents P.W. Botha and F.W. De Klerk, who fought the ANC and promoted apartheid, a comprehensive system of racial segregation begun in 1948 that disenfranchised the country's black majority.

Both Botha and De Klerk deny that their governments sanctioned widespread human rights violations, as alleged by their opponents.


Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, a mostly black party often at odds with the ANC, also declined to apply for amnesty, saying he never killed anyone or ordered anyone killed.

Between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, about 15,000 people were killed in the feud between Buthelezi's forces and the ANC. In its statement, the ANC blamed the violence on the white minority government, which it says used hit squads to spark the violence.

"The violence was the work of the state, was organized at the highest level and was aimed at strengthening the hand of the government at the negotiations table," the statement said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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