S. Africa's truth commission opens crucial hearing
Considering amnesty for communist leader's killers
August 11, 1997
Web posted at: 12:50 p.m. EDT (1650 GMT)
PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- South Africa's truth commission opened one of its toughest hearings Monday to decide whether to grant amnesty to the murderers of Communist Party leader Chris Hani.
The Truth and Reconciliation commission was set up by President Nelson Mandela to expose crimes committed by the government and its opponents during apartheid rule.
It can grant amnesty if the perpetrators can prove they had political motives.
The gunman, Polish immigrant Janusz Walus, who shot Hani four times outside his home in a Johannesburg suburb in 1993, has applied for amnesty. Also seeking amnesty is right-wing politician Clive Derby-Lewis, the mastermind of the murder. Both men were sentenced to death after the murder but the ruling was commuted to life in prison.
George Bizos, a lawyer hired by Hani's family, said he would prove that Derby-Lewis, a former Conservative Party deputy in parliament, and Walus, a fierce anti-Communist, had lied when they said they acted alone.
Bizos said earlier statements by the two men showed that other people were involved in Hani's shooting.
In order to grant amnesty, the commission requires a full confession and disclosure about the details of the crime.
Hani's family and the South African Communist Party are vehemently opposed to granting amnesty.
Observers say the truth commission faces one of its most difficult tasks yet since Hani had been one of the country's most prominent leaders, and his murder threatened to derail South Africa's transition to democratic rule.
At the time, Mandela helped defuse tension with a televised address, appealing for calm.
A year after Hani's murder, South Africans voted in all-race elections after a transition that avoided a much-feared civil war.
The hearing in Pretoria comes only days after the commission granted amnesty to notorious state hit-squad killer Dirk Coetzee.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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