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  • Documents on Democracy

South Africa

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is examining human rights abuses under apartheid. On August 21 it heard testimony from National Party leader F.W. de Klerk, and on the following day it received a statement from Deputy President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC). Excerpts from the two statements appear below:

F.W. de Klerk:

One of the main aims of the Commission’s activities is to promote reconciliation. This cannot be achieved unless there is also repentance on all sides. It is in this spirit that I want to emphasize that it is not my intention to excuse or gloss over the m any unacceptable things that occurred during the period of National Party rule. They happened and caused immeasurable pain and suffering to many. This is starkly illustrated by the evidence placed before the Commission at its hearings across the country. Many of the accounts by witnesses are deeply moving.

I should like to express my deepest sympathy with all those on all sides who suffered during the conflict. I, and many other leading figures, have already apologized for the pain and suffering caused by former policies of the National Party. This was accepted and publicly acknowledged by the chairperson of the Commission, Archbishop Tutu. I reiterate these apologies today. . . .

Another prime purpose of the truth and reconciliation process is to learn from the experiences of the past and to ensure that we never again repeat the same mistakes. I suggest that we should draw the following lessons and conclusions from all of these traumatic experiences:

No single side in the conflict of the past has a monopoly of virtue or should bear responsibility for all the abuses that occurred.

Neither can any single side claim sole credit for the transformation of South Africa. The transformation belongs to us all. . . .

We should limit the power of government through the kind of mechanisms [End Page 185] that we have included in our new constitution—including the charter of fundamental rights; the concept of a rechtsstaat; the separation of powers; and the maintenance of free and independent courts and institutions of civil society.

We must, at all costs, avoid conflict in our diverse, complex, and fragile society. We must accommodate diversity and provide security for all our people and all our communities. We must promote mutual tolerance and respect and work together to build a ne w, overarching and all-embracing nation. In particular, we must commit ourselves to improving the conditions of millions of South Africans who still live in circumstances of unacceptable poverty and deprivation.

Lasting solutions to complex problems can be found only through peaceful means, through compromise and through the accommodation of the reasonable interests and concerns of others. We must accept the importance of reconciliation, of coming to terms with ourselves, our neighbors, and our past—of forgiving and of being forgiven.

May God, Almighty, grant the Commission the wisdom and the insight to succeed in achieving the worthy goals that parliament has set for them.

Thabo Mbeki:

The ANC supports the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. By knowing what happened and why it happened, South Africa will be better placed to ensure that the evil deeds of the past are never repeated. . . . It would be morally wrong and legally incorrect to equate apartheid with the resistance against it. While the latter was rooted in the principles of human dignity and human rights, the former was an affront to humanity itself. . . .

Given these circumstances, the ANC wishes to submit that it conducted itself well: above all, by ensuring the survival of a liberation movement which, at the beginning, had everything stacked against it. Yet we do acknowledge that, in the context of this work, excesses did occur. . . .

The ANC highly regrets the excesses that occurred. Further, we do acknowledge that the real threat we faced and the difficult conditions under which we had to operate led to a drift in accountability and control away from established norms, resulting in situations in which some individuals within the Security Department started to behave as a law unto themselves.

. . . The...

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pp. 185-188
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