About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Masondo apologises for Seremane's death


Controversy surrounded the release of the 3 000-page "final" report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on 29/10/98. Both the African National Congress and former State President FW de Klerk objected. If the TRC recommendations are accepted, trials of former security force members could drag on for another six years, prolonging the hurts of the past and hindering the process of reconciliation. While the report holds the ANC responsible for gross human rights violations, it does not deal even handedly with both sides in the conflicts of the past. Far greater blame is placed on the former government and also on the Inkatha Freedom Party.


"A volcanic war of words" erupted between the ANC and the TRC ahead of the release of the TRC report. In terms of its mandate, the TRC issued more than 200 notices to individuals and organisations across the political spectrum in August, warning them that the report "contemplated adverse findings" against them and giving them an opportunity to respond in writing. After missing several deadlines, only on 19/10/98 did the ANC insist on a meeting with the TRC to discuss the matter. The TRC refused, fearing that making an exception would be interpreted as showing partiality.

The ANC's anger stemmed from the perception that the TRC was "casting the same shadow between freedom fighters and apartheid masters". It called the findings "capacious and arbitrary" and charged the TRC with "besmirching our struggle". "The ANC is convinced the morality of those who violated human rights in the liberation struggle cannot be equated with those who fought to preserve apartheid," said Wally Mbhele (Mail & Guardian 9/10/98).

On 27/10/98, the ANC launched an 11th hour legal bid to prevent the report being handed over to President Nelson Mandela. Its 25-page affidavit contained a vicious attack on the TRC, accusing it of seeking "to criminalise the struggle for the liberation of the people of South Africa." "Inherently any attempt to place on par guerrilla formations and state security forces, as well as irregular and regular warfare, will be fake and contrived and will necessarily lead to wrong conclusions," it said. "This included conclusions based on requirements that a movement which does not control a state and a state machinery must be judged in the same terms as would apply to an oppressive state." The judge dismissed the action on the morning of the release.

The legal challenge has been described as a serious blunder taken by only a small leadership group. Some of the ANC's top brass, possibly even Mandela, did not know beforehand of the plan to stop the publication of the report, TRC deputy chairman Dr Alex Boraine said on 29/10/98. He said the legal initiative seemed to come from ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe and his deputy rather than from the executive. One ANC MP called the application "unbelievably stupid", according to the Mail & Guardian (30/10/98). "He thought it had damaged his party's reputation locally and abroad for 'fair-mindedness' and a willingness to face up to the past."

"Reports are emerging of differences within the ANC to block the TRC's final report," noted The Citizen (31/10/98). "Mandela … put distance between himself and the court action by pointedly accepting the TRC report 'with all its imperfections'. ANC president Thabo Mbeki's role is curious. 'Experts' yesterday said the language and style of the ANC's 25-page response to the TRC bear Mr Mbeki's stamp. Yet at a press conference on Wednesday (28/10/98) he professed ignorance to a Citizen journalist: 'The TRC is submitting an interim report. We haven't seen it - I don't know what it says.' On the same afternoon, his party gave notice of the court application effectively to gag the TRC. How could the organisation proceed in such a rash manner in response to a document which its own leader had not read? The question must be asked: who is calling the shots in the ANC? Who was allowed to embark on action which became the organisation's biggest public relations blunder of the year?"

The Sunday Times (1/11/98) highlighted the "huge gulf" between Mandela and the ANC's official party line. "The ANC was fighting a just war, but in the course of fighting the just war, it committed gross violations of human rights," it quoted Mandela as saying. "Nobody can deny that some people died in our camps and that's what the TRC said." In contrast, Ronnie Mamoepa, Mbeki's communication director, said: "No member of the ANC can ever concur with the scurrilous attempts to criminalise the liberation struggle by characterising the heroic struggles of the people of South Africa … as gross human rights violations." "The suggestion that President Mandela and Deputy President Mbeki had a difference of opinion on this approach is devoid of all truth," Motlanthe is quoted as saying. But Mandela said: "We happened to respond differently depending on the information we had when we prepared our responses. There's nothing wrong with having a difference of opinion."

The public spat between Mbeki and TRC could be a clue to the type of president he will be when he replaces Mandela in 1999, said political scientist Tom Lodge. Although Mbeki's outburst was probably just wounded pride, "there is going to be a rather less good-tempered political environment in the next three or four years. … He is a very complex man, not to be underestimated." Early in his deputy presidency, Mbeki said that while the press had been correct to criticise the previous apartheid regime, noted The Citizen (2/11/98), "such criticism was no longer appropriate as we now had a democratic government. He evidently had no taste for the idea of the media as a watchdog. Now with the TRC performing that watchdog function, even in a very limited way, he wants the written word changed. Mr Mbeki again displays the same instinct towards favourable reporting and censorship."

TRC chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he had been "devastated" by the ANC's action and "very, very sad". "It is desperately, desperately distressing that this should occur." "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it," he told the Sunday Times (1/11/98). "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and there is no way in which you can assume that yesterday's oppressed will not become tomorrow's oppressors. … I didn't struggle in order to remove one set of those who thought they were tin gods and replace them with others who are tempted to think they are. … Sycophants are the worst possible thing to have around you when you are in power."

Former State President FW de Klerk lodged an urgent interdict with the Cape High Court on 28/10/98 to stop the TRC publishing its finding against him. In terms of an agreement between the parties, which was made an order of the court, the TRC made no finding on De Klerk in its report, pending a court hearing next March. The agreement allowed the report to be published as planned. The section dealing with him was blacked out. The TRC was ready to declare him "an accessory to gross human rights violations", according to Howard Barrell (Mail & Guardian 30/10/98). It provisionally concluded that after the bombing of two buildings in Johannesburg housing anti-apartheid groups, he had been informed that they had been authorised by PW Botha. His failure to act on this information "contributed to creating a culture of impunity within which gross human rights violations were committed". No lives were lost in the explosions. The TRC act defined "gross violations of human rights" as "the killing, abduction, torture or severe ill treatment of any person" or incitement to commit such acts by a person acting with a political motive.


In its recommendations, the TRC states that "the granting of general amnesty in whatever guise should be resisted." It urges attorneys-general to "pay rigorous attention to the prosecution of members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) who are found to have assaulted, tortured and/or killed persons in their care." It does however recommend that consideration be given "to imposing a time limit for such prosecutions". On 30/10/98, Tutu suggested prosecutions should stop two years after the end of the amnesty process in March 1999. "We do not want the country to become mired down in a long process where details of the past are continually recalled," he added.

However, the new Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions, Dr Jan D'Oliveira said on 9/11/98 that two years was "wholly impractical". It could take as long as six years to round up gross human rights abusers and try them in court. He confirmed that members of the previous government were being probed but "we have not got enough evidence for a criminal court at this stage". Cases had been lined up against two police generals "but again we are waiting for the process of amnesty to subside". The amnesty process was also holding up investigations for gross human rights abuses by ANC members, including present Cabinet ministers and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. It was up to Mandela to send the names of those who should be prosecuted to the National Director of Public Prosecutions.

Despite the TRC's rejection of a blanket amnesty, pressure is building for all those involved in human rights violations during the period 1960-94 to be given blanket amnesty, whether they satisfied the TRC's requirements or not. The alternative is a near endless series of criminal and civil proceedings which will keep alive the bitterness rekindled by the TRC. The prosecution of certain political leaders and their subordinates would cause resentment and alienate millions of South Africans, warned United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa on 8/11/98. This would happen if Madikizela-Mandela were to stand trial because she was not included in the ANC elitist collective for blanket amnesty. Similarly, violence would erupt in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng if Buthelezi were to be incarcerated. "I urge all involved to balance legal and political exigency when weighing the recommendations of the TRC," he said.

"I fear the TRC report has left our communities more divided than at any time since the inauguration of the government of national unity," De Klerk said on 30/10/98. "I believe that the cause of reconciliation will not be promoted by effectively declaring whole generations of politicians and state employees to have been criminals." No purpose would be served by criminally prosecuting leaders of high standing such as Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and former State President PW Botha. It is politically inconceivable for these mavericks of South African politics to face the law, said Steven Friedman of the Centre for Political Studies on 6/11/98. "We are not going to have a strict judicial process."

"It is the political interplay between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC which underlies most of the speculation about an all-round amnesty," editorialised The Citizen (10/11/98). "The warming of relations between the two parties, and particularly between Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and IFP leader Dr Buthelezi, has long been obvious. It is widely rumoured that the ANC leadership told Mr Buthelezi long ago that a general amnesty would be declared. Hence the dearth of amnesty applications by IFP members."


To the great credit of the TRC commissioners, the report condemns the ANC for gross human rights violations. These occurred when "the distinction between military and civilian targets was blurred"; "where members of MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's armed wing) conducted unplanned military operations using their own discretion and without adequate control and supervision at an operational level" and determined targets for attack "outside of official policy guidelines" as well as where military operations went awry. They also occurred where defectors and informers were "regarded as legitimate targets to be killed" and in the treatment of suspected enemy agents and mutineers in its camps. The report holds the ANC accountable for its landmine campaign in 1985-87 and morally and politically accountable for "creating a climate in which (its) supporters believed their actions to be legitimate and carried out within the broad parameters of a 'people's war' as enunciated by the ANC".

It finds Madikizela-Mandela, a maverick who is out of step with the ANC's leadership core, "accountable, politically and morally, for the gross violations of human rights by the Mandela United Football Club" and that she "herself was responsible for committing such gross violations of human rights."

The United Democratic Front, which was "increasingly supportive of the ANC", facilitated gross violations of human rights in that its leaders, through their campaigns and speeches, helped create a climate in which members "believed they were morally justified in taking unlawful actions against … persons perceived to be supporters of the state and its structures". It created "a climate in which such actions were considered legitimate". This led to widespread excesses, abuses and gross violations of human rights", including killing, necklacing, attempted killing and severe ill-treatment. The UDF and its leadership failed to exert its moral and political authority to stop these practices or discipline its members.

While the TRC commissioners must be highly commended for refusing to gloss over the gross human rights violations committed by the liberation movements and their allies, this must not be seen as an indication that they treated both sides in the conflicts of the past even handedly. On the contrary, far greater blame is placed on the former government and those associated with it.

"The Commission is not of the view that (all the major role-players in the conflicts) can be held to be equally culpable for violations committed in the mandate period (1960-94). … The preponderance of responsibility rests with the state and its allies." "In the first place, the Commission followed the internationally accepted position that apartheid was a crime against humanity. Accordingly, it upheld and endorsed the liberation movements' argument that they were engaged in a just war. … A just cause does not exempt an organisation from pursuing its goals though just means. Moreover, the evidence shows that the perpetration of gross violations of human rights by non-state actors often took place in circumstances where they were acting in opposition to the official state ideology and the policy of apartheid. In this sense, it was the state that generated violent political conflict in the mandate period - either through its own direct action or by eliciting reactions to its policies and strategies."

Having thus identified the main culprit in the conflict that raged in South Africa, the report reviews extensively the successive steps the former government took in its attempt to contain the liberation struggle. Its ideology, inner workings, confidential documentation, chains of command and its actions are all reviewed. Horrifying details are recorded of the killing and torture of suspected activists. Great emphasis is laid on who killed whom, how it was done, how the body was disposed of and who gave instructions for the killing.

The chapter on the Consequences of Gross Violations of Human Rights details the pathetic stories of individuals who bear the physical and psychological scars of the abuses they have suffered. However, the report ignores the terrible consequences of the "People's War" on society, the results of which are still with us! The cultivation of a climate of non-payment for services has resulted in billions of Rand being owed to municipalities which are now facing bankruptcy. The countless thousands of youth intoxicated with slogans like "Liberation Before Education" are now unemployed and unemployable. We are still reaping the results of the deliberate breaking down of authority (including parental) and respect for human life, in the form of the shockingly high rates of murder, rape and other crimes.

The analysis of the former state is all done with barely a mention to global politics and the cold war which was raging at the time. This is reflected in Tutu's foreword. Talking of Communism, he says: "The threat was seen as so serious that the world's greatest Western democracy saw nothing wrong with supporting some of the world's worst dictatorships - for example, Pinochet's Chile, other Latin American military dictatorships and Marcos' Philippines…" But were these the world's worst dictators of the period? What about East Germany's Honecker, Romania's Ceausescu, Bulgaria's Zhivkov, Albania's Hoxha, North Korea's Kim Il-Sung, China's Mao Tse Tung, Cambodia's Pol Pot and Cuba's Castro? What about the Soviet Union's support for these dictators?

Unlike its treatment of the former state, the report gives no comprehensive analysis of the ANC, its ideology, command structure, moral and political support and the training and financing received from the Soviet Union and its surrogates. The question as to whether it was working within the Soviet Union's overall global strategy in the 70s and 80s is not even asked, let alone answered! Who planned what operations, who carried them out, who presided over the military tribunals that ordered the execution of "spies and mutineers," who carried them out and where are their bodies buried are (except in one case) all unasked questions. No probe is done into who instigated the murder of town councillors and who were the ring-leaders of the mobs who carried out the necklacing?

The contrast in the report's handling of the belligerents continues in its finding. "The predominant portion of gross violations of human rights were committed by the former State through its security and law-enforcement agencies. Moreover, the South African state in the period from the late 1970s to early 1990s became involved in activities of a criminal nature…". This is a bald statement, not softened by words like "due to the intensification of the armed struggle" or "because it was unable, by legal means, to contain the rising level of violence, the state became involved in criminal activities…"

That kind of softening or justification is however given in the case of the ANC and its allies. "While recognising that such (unplanned) operations were frequently undertaken in retaliation for raids by the former South African government into neighbouring countries, such unplanned operations…" "The Commission finds that in the absence of adequate command structure and in the context of widespread state-sponsored or -directed violence and a climate of political intolerance, SDU members often 'took the law into their own hands'…" "Members and supporters of UDF affiliate organisations often committed gross violations of human rights in the context of widespread state-sponsored or -directed violence and a climate of political intolerance."

"Certain members of the SSC (State Security Council) (the State President, Minister of Law and Order and heads of security services) …. are therefore guilty of 'official tolerance' of violations (of human rights) and are accountable for such violations." (Curiously, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was also a member of the SSC but is not specifically mentioned.) Specific findings are made against former State President PW Botha. "For the reasons set out above and by virture of his position as head of state and chairperson of the SSC, Botha contributed to and facilitated a climate in which the above violations of human rights could and did occur, and as such is accountable for such violations."

As previously noted, the specific findings against De Klerk are blacked out. Gen Constand Viljoen, Gen Pieter (Tienie) Groenewald and Euguene Terreblanche are held accountable for the gross violations of human rights committed by the Afrikaner Volkfront.

The IFP is held responsible for "gross violations of human rights committed in the former Transvaal, Natal and KwaZulu". "Chief MG Buthelezi served simultaneously as President of the IFP and as the Chief Minister of the KwaZulu government and was the only serving Minister of Police in the KwaZulu government during the entire 13-year existence of the KwaZulu Police. Where these three agencies are found to have been responsible for the commission of gross human rights violations, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi is held by this Commission to be accountable in his representative capacity as the leader, head and responsible Minister of the parties concerned."

Buthelezi, along with Botha and named defence force officers, is held accountable for killings, attempted killings and severe ill treatment in connection with Operation Marion and with other named IFP members, for gross human rights violations in connection with the Mlaba self-protection camp. Eight named IFP members are held accountable for the killings, attempted killings, arson and severe ill treatment committed by the Esikhawini hit squad.

These finding must be contrasted with those made against the ANC. "The ANC is held accountable for such gross violations of human rights. … The Commission finds that the ANC is morally and politically accountable for creating a climate in which such supporters believed their actions to be legitimate and carried out within the broad parameters of a 'people's war' as enunciated by the ANC. … The leadership of the ANC and MK must take responsibility and accountable for all gross violations of human rights perpetrated by its membership and cadres in the mandate period."

"The Commission notes that the political leadership of the UDF has accepted political and moral responsibility for the actions of its members. Accordingly the UDF is accountable for the gross violations of human rights committed in its name and as a consequence of its failure to take the steps referred to above." Nowhere is any ANC or UDF leader specifically mentioned by name apart from Madikizela-Mandela! No one is held accountable for Operation Vula or any other ANC action.

As already observed, only "members of the South African police service (SAPS) who are found to have assaulted, tortured and/or killed persons in their care" have been singled out for prosecution. No similar demand is made of those who assaulted, tortured and/or killed people in ANC camps.

In a moving two-hour meeting, Andrew Masondo apologised to former land claims commissioner Joe Seremane for ordering the execution of his brother Timothy in the ANC camps in Angola in 1981, reported Charlene Smith (Mail & Guardian 13/11/98). Both men were on Robbin Island together in the 1960s as jailed ANC supporters. Masondo said he was not aware that the man he knew as Kenneth Mahamba was Seremane's brother. He had testified at a closed TRC hearing into Mahamba's death. The TRC heard that Mahamba, accused of being a spy, had been "beaten beyond re-cognition". "It was not easy," said another witness. "He did not readily confess and I think in the process of investigation of trying to get him to admit the truth, he was beaten."

The TRC found five people (two deceased) responsible for Mahamba's torture but did not recommend action against any of them. It was unable to make a finding regarding the allegations that he was a spy. Ironically, on the day the Mail & Guardian article appeared, the announcement of Masondo's promotion to lieutenant-general was published. He will take over as chief of the service corps of the South African National Defence Force on 1/12/98.

With regard to all other victims of human rights abuses in exile, all the liberation movements were called upon to do was to apologise, withdraw allegations against them and reconcile with them. It was also to seek to establish the fate of those who went missing in exile. There are no recommendations for compensation or prosecution….

For full text see: http://www.signpostspublications.com/roca/nov98.html

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.