CAPE TOWN December 2 1997 - SAPA


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had broken the law in granting "backroom amnesty" to a number of African National Congress leaders, and now faced its most serious credibility crisis, National Party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday.

He was commenting on last week's announcement that 37 ANC applicants, including cabinet ministers, had been granted amnesty on the basis that they had accepted collective responsibility for actions outlined in the party's submission to the TRC.

Van Schalkwyk said the commission's founding act provided specifically that amnesty could be granted only to applicants who had made a full disclosure of all relevant facts on a specific offence. It did not provide for a general or blanket amnesty, he said.

The TRC could not grant an illegal amnesty to members of one party while all other South Africans were being excluded from this soft form of amnesty. Other South Africans, notwithstanding the party to which they belonged, had had to apply on the basis of a specific crime and in their individual capacities.

It was also intriguing that the applications had been dealt with in chambers, and not in public hearings, a route which according to the act could only be followed if no gross human rights violations were involved.

Some of the applicants had been publicly accused in the past of such violations, and the TRC had to explain how it came to decide there was no need for an open hearing.

"The TRC cannot expect to lay a foundation for reconciliation if it disregards its own legislation in an attempt to favour the ANC," he said.

The TRC had only two options - either to withdraw the amnesty granted to the ANC leaders and apply the act evenhandedly, or to ask for a change to the act to allow any South African to apply for this kind of soft amnesty.

South African Press Association, 1997
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