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African National Congress Violated Human Rights During White Rule

By Bob Drogin
Los Angeles Times
CAPE TOWN, South Africa

Opening its files for the first time, the African National Congress admitted Thursday that its members and supporters had committed grisly human rights violations during the bitter struggle against white rule but insisted the abuses were unintentional.

Thabo Mbeki, deputy president of both the ANC and the government, apologized to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for what he called "excesses" and said he "deeply regrets" the civilian deaths.

The ANC, the former liberation movement that is now the ruling party in a vibrant democracy, handed over some 420 pages of documents to the commission. They included graphic details of bombings, use of land mines and other attacks that killed civilians, as well as three long-hidden internal reports describing horrific living conditions and mistreatment at former ANC military training camps.

Hundreds of ANC operatives and guerrillas who died or disappeared in exile were identified, including the names of 34 suspected spies, murderers and mutineers executed by the ANC at the notorious Quatro Camp in Angola.

Testifying for three hours, Mbeki insisted that none of the abuses "arose out of official policy, or were in any case sanctioned by the leadership. There are instances where we could have acted more firmly and speedily to prevent or stop abuses, and for that, the ANC accepts collective responsibility."

He said the ANC "never permitted random attacks" on civilians but said they inevitably died in bombings, shootouts and other attacks. He cited, for example, an infamous car bomb at the Magoos and Why Not bars in Durban in 1986, in which three civilians were killed and 69 injured.

Other civilian deaths, Mbeki said, "including (victims of) necklacings' and attacks on a cinema and restaurants, were in fact carried out by agents of the apartheid state in their continuing attempts to damage the image of the ANC."

He denied that the ANC sanctioned necklacing, in which a victim is burned alive with a gasoline-filled tire around the neck.