Tutu claims the TRC has forged a way for South Africans to heal

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa's Truth Commission, said yesterday that the country would be glad that it had faced the horrors of its apartheid past.

"Reconciliation is going to be painful," Dr Tutu said as he prepared to hand his report to President Nelson Mandela.

"The point is that we have tried to face up to the horrors of our past . . . and it is not going to hold us hostage," he said in the Cape Town office from which he has run the statutory Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for two years.

Dr Tutu (67) declined to discuss last-minute criticism by the National Party, which imposed white apartheid rule in 1948 and began to dismantle its institutionalised segregation in 1990, and by the African National Congress (ANC), the leading opponent of apartheid.

A personal spokesman confirmed yesterday that retired former president Mr F.W. de Klerk, who handed power to Mr Mandela in 1994, would launch a court appeal today to halt the planned publication on Thursday of the TRC's five-volume interim report.

Mr De Klerk is among about 200 people and institutions, including the ANC and some respected liberation war veterans, who have received letters from the TRC saying the report will include findings against them.

"Mr De Klerk is not trying to gag the TRC, but simply to stop them making statements that are unfounded against him," his spokesman said.

Dr Tutu said he would not comment on the merits or possible implications of Mr De Klerk's last-minute appeal, but added it was proof that South Africa had moved from oppression to freedom.

"We struggled to get him that right (of appeal) and we're glad he is able to use it," he said.

Dr Tutu, who is fighting prostate cancer, dealt with last-minute preparations for the handover in a small office crammed with mementoes of his foreign visits and visitors.

"Despite all the many negative things that have happened, I think that in a very short space of time people are going to say we did a good thing, that we did the right thing," he said.

The TRC has been criticised from the left for equating the struggle against white rule with the struggle to maintain it and by the right for being biased in favour of black liberation. Dr Tutu, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to white rule, said the commission had laid bare much of the truth about the war for and against apartheid, but reconciliation could take years to achieve.

"Whatever it is that impelled us to go down this road is something we will constantly be wanting to say `thank you' for," Dr Tutu said.

He said neither those who fought to maintain white rule nor those who fought to overthrow it would find the truth easy to face, but added: "We are facing the truth. It's going to be horrible, but . . . we have looked at it."

The next step would be for every South African to examine his or her own role in the country's past and to make a contribution to healing.

"Each one of us is going to have to absorb pain. All of us, more or less, are going to find that there are things for which we are going to have to say sorry," he said.

Though the TRC has no power to prosecute, evidence uncovered in hundreds of hearings could be used to initiate police investigations against people who have not sought amnesty under a parallel provision of the National Unity and Reconciliation Act that established the commission in 1996.

More than 7,000 people have sought amnesty for offences committed in the name of the fight over apartheid.

Dr Tutu is scheduled to return to Emory University in the US city of Atlanta after presenting his report, where he will lecture, write and watch his 11-year-old grandson play what he has called indifferent soccer.