Mbeki, Tutu clash on prisoner release


SOUTH AFRICA: President Thabo Mbeki appears to be involved in a controversial process of rectifying a perceived imbalance in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by releasing prisoners refused amnesty by the body.

Thirty-three prisoners convicted of serious crimes, including multiple murders, were released last month by Mr Mbeki, even though they had applied for but failed to obtain amnesty from the TRC. The chairman of the TRC, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has accused Mr Mbeki of making a mockery of the commission.

Mr Mbeki's decision, taken without consultation with opposition parties and presented to the public as an accomplished fact, must be seen in the context of his refusal to accept the TRC finding that the African National Congress committed gross human rights abuses during its "just war" against the old apartheid order.

His rejection of what he saw as an attempt to "criminalise the liberation struggle" - like his failed attempt to obtain a court interdict against publication of the finding - is part of the sequence of events that led to the handing over the first five volumes of the TRC report to his predecessor, Mr Nelson Mandela, nearly four years ago.

The pardoning of the 33 prisoners, many of whose crimes were found by the TRC to have been motivated by self-interest or to have been disproportionate to their declared aims, comes ahead of the submission to Mr Mbeki of a two-volume codicil by the TRC amnesty committee.

The codicil, consisting of a detailed report on the work of the TRC amnesty committee since October 1998, will complete the TRC mandate to report fully to the South African president.