ANC considering amnesty extension to protect itself


The African National Congress, fearful that it could face "endless litigation" arising from past conflict in South Africa, is considering extending the amnesty process to protect itself.

The ANC is vulnerable in two capacities: as the governing party in control of the state and as one of the major adversaries in the struggle for South Africa which nearly tore the country apart.

In a recent speech to parliament, President Nelson Mandela, referring to the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act (which empowered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to grant amnesty), spoke of "an omission on our part as legislators." The law enables individuals to apply for amnesty, but it has left "the new democratic state", as well as political organisations involved in the struggle, vulnerable to recurring litigation, he said. In a clear indication that he favoured extending the amnesty process, Mr Mandela added: "We hope these matters will receive the attention of the amnesty committee." Further hints that legislation to widen the amnesty process is in the offing came during the debate from Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who is to succeed Mr Mandela after the election on June 2nd.

He referred to the need to consider proposals from KwaZuluNatal to broaden the amnesty process. This province witnessed a prolonged and bloody conflict between the ANC and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. IFP leaders and former commanders of the South African Defence Force saw the truth com mission as incorrigibly biased in favour of the ANC. They therefore declined to apply to its subcommittee for amnesty. Like the present ANC-controlled state, and rival polities which contested South Africa's undeclared war, they are thus vulnerable to litigation over damages and losses arising from their actions.

Human rights abuses, including torture and execution after legally dubious hearings before special tribunals, have been detailed by ANC commissions of inquiry.

With the truth commission avenue to amnesty closed, the ANC is now seeking another means to secure itself against litigation. In the process it may reach a deal with the IFP and former enemy commanders in the old South African Defence Force.