Truth Report Blocked

State-sponsored terrorists, or freedom fighters? Apartheid government stooge, or enlightened tribal chief? This will be for the court to figure out as South Africa’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and its sabre-rattling leader, Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi strive to clear their names of human rights violations reported to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

They are challenging the government’s justice department to produce any records containing evidence supporting the TRC’s interim finding that the IFP, under Buthelezi, was the “primary non-state perpetrator … responsible for approximately 33% of all the violations reported to the commission”. The justice department has inherited responsibility for all pending litigation as the TRC no longer exists.

In the mean time, Justice Minister Penuell Maduna has been obliged to give an undertaking not to consider the TRC’s final report until after the case has been decided. The report was due to be handed to President Thabo Mbeki this month, but it seems this will now only happen towards the end of the year. Buthelezi says he can not allow the final report to be published without it providing evidence of its allegations against him and his party. The TRC failed to produce any body of evidence against him, and was therefore in “default”.

Buthelezi has spent the past three years in court, challenging the TRC’s interim report, which he says is not supported by evidence. Having gained access to the commission’s documents after launching an appeal to the Constitutional Court, he remains convinced “the commission had no evidence to justify its findings in respect of the IFP and myself … I never once ordered, ratified or condoned human rights violations,” he says.

Many victims of the IFP could not or would not testify before the TRC because they feared reprisals or further victimisation. But many others who did make statements to the TRC, did so on the assurance they were protected by confidentiality. The November court case will thus be bound to balance the constitutional right of privacy with the right of access to information. In the mean time, and even with the release of the TRC’s final report now legally blocked, there has accumulated in the public arena a large body of damning evidence against Buthelezi and the IFP.

Former apartheid government secret agent Martin Dolinchek disclosed in 1991 that the Bureau for State Security (BOSS) and the National Intelligence Agency had groomed the IFP since its inception in 1974. According to Dolinchek, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the South African intelligence community joined hands in propping up the IFP. They established a rival organisation in 1974, Umkhonto kaShaka, which was the brainchild of BOSS, and then deliberately discredited it to boost Buthelezi’s and the IFP’s images.

The covert operation resulted in a major popularity boost for Buthelezi and the IFP. By 1984, and with the rival African National Congress conveniently banned from free political activity, the IFP was claiming nearly one million members in more than 2 000 branches. This rose to 1.6 million in 3 000 branches in 1989, and today the figure of more than two million members is generally quoted by IFP officials, headed by a small band of white people who play a disproportionate role near the top of the party.

The IFP’s trade union arm, United Workers Union of South Africa, was formed in 1986, with one of its strongest supporters being the American labour federation, AFL-CIO, which is well known as a conduit for American money to anti-communist groups for nearly half a century. It emerged in 1991 that the union was also receiving large amounts of covert funding from the South African government – the “Inkathagate” scandal, as journalists promptly dubbed it.

The damage done to Buthelezi and the IFP by Inkathagate, however, was less about money than about shocking revelations of clear collusion between the IFP and the apartheid state’s secret police. There is an enormous array of evidence and reportage about incidents in which violence was initiated by IFP members. Defectors from the IFP have also revealed that the former South African Defence Force (SADF) secretly trained 200 IFP members in death-squad activities, including demolition and the use of mortar-bombs, limpet mines, anti-personnel mines and hand grenades.

In 1996, the Durban Supreme Court absolved former defence minister General Magnus Malan of any wrongdoing in relation to offensive covert activities. Judge Hugo ruled that in the context of military operations in the 1980s, “offensive” actually meant “protective”. It is a measure of the extent to which the former government had so frequently asserted its “right” to lie, managed the news and contrived to deceive the public, that words have become denuded of true meaning in South Africa, to mean the very opposite of what they are supposed to convey.

Buthelezi and the IFP may now be intent on following precedent. But in trying to clear their names of any wrongdoing by blocking the TRC’s report and taking the issue to court, they may well end up shooting themselves in the feet. A revival of all the evidence against them already in the public domain might not necessarily serve their best interests and could in fact have the very opposite effect.

The South African History Archive, meanwhile, has finally received Military Intelligence records from the State Attorney, says archive director Verne Harris in confirming an out-of-court settlement with the National Defence Force.

“We are now in possession of all 41 lists of surviving Military Intelligence records from the apartheid era. We did a test to see what access to actual files we could secure using the lists. We asked for 32 files related to anti-conscription activities. The military gave us 10 of them, refusing access to the others. We responded by going on internal appeal against the refusal. Today (August 5) he military gave us the other 22 files.

“Both the lists and the files themselves have certain information excised. However, we are satisfied that these are reasonable excisions in terms of provisions under the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

“Seen together, these developments constitute a modest but significant advance for freedom of information in South Africa.” says Harris.

(Stan Winer is a South African journalist specialising in human rights issues).

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