CAPE TOWN December 2 1997 - SAPA


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's amnesty committee on Tuesday refused to explain how it arrived at its controversial decision to grant amnesty to 37 African National Congress members, including Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.

The refusal follows repeated attempts by, among others, the South African Press Association over the past two days to get clarity from committee members on their decision, which has been widely slated.

Many of the ANC applicants, including a number of cabinet ministers, were granted amnesty on the basis that they had accepted collective responsibility for actions outlined in the party's submission to the TRC.

However, observers have questioned how the ANC members were eligible for amnesty when they had not confessed to any offence or omission for which they could be criminally prosecuted or held civilly liable.

Newspaper editorials have called on the committee to explain how they arrived at their decision to grant amnesty to the ANC members, as well as to TRC chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu's son, Trevor.

Trevor Tutu was granted amnesty for his conviction arising out of a bomb threat at East London airport in 1989.

In its editorial on Tuesday, the Afrikaans daily Die Burger said the TRC had, in effect, granted a blanket amnesty to prominent ANC leaders.

"This reinforces serious suspicions over the aim and usefulness of the TRC," it said.

The Business Day said the amnesty committee's integrity had been called into question by its "thoughtless" handling of Tutu's application.

"In the public mind there is no prima facie evidence, and there never has been, that Trevor Tutu's motives were in any way political.

"For the sake of its credibility, and for the entire truth and reconciliation process, the amnesty committee owes South Africa an explanation of its finding."

However, the amnesty committee on Tuesday made it clear it was not prepared to be drawn into any public debate.

Committee chairman Judge Hassen Mall stood by the committee's decision to grant amnesty to the ANC members on the basis of collective responsibility, committee executive secretary Martin Coetzee told Sapa.

The decision was taken by Mall and fellow judges Bernard Ngoepe and Andrew Wilson.

Coetzee said the judges had considered the applications in conjunction with a declaration in which the applicants assumed collective responsibility for all offences and omissions by members of ANC structures.

The committee had also taken into account the ANC's submission to the TRC on the armed conflict and the requirements for amnesty in the TRC's founding legislation.

Meanwhile, the National Party is expected to break its four-day silence on the controversy surrounding the amnesty decisions, at a media briefing by NP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk in Cape Town.

Coetzee said the NP had collected copies of the ANC applications from the TRC's Cape Town offices on Monday.

South African Press Association, 1997
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