CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s governing African National Congress admitted Monday that it committed bombings, murders and torture in its fight against apartheid — sometimes killing innocent civilians.
The admissions were made in a detailed, 139-page report to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is offering amnesty to people who confess to political crimes of the apartheid era. Most of the attention so far has focused on allegations against apartheid-era government officials.
Apartheid ended in 1994, when ANC leader Nelson Mandela was elected president in the country’s first all-race elections.
On Monday, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Defense Minister Joe Modise and Justice Minister Dullah Omar went before the commission to answer questions about the wrongs committed by opponents of apartheid.
In one example, the ANC said it ordered the bombing of air force headquarters in 1983, in retaliation for a cross-border raid into Lesotho by South African security forces that killed 42 ANC supporters.
Nineteen people died in the bombing, including 11 military officers.
For the ANC, that episode symbolized its members’ belief that they had been at war against apartheid forces — and that sometimes brutal actions were warranted.
“With the increasingly indiscriminate attacks on neighboring states and the viciousness of attacks on South African civilians by the security forces, it was decided by special operations command to attack military personnel,” the ANC said.
Most of the incidents were divulged in previous ANC reports to the commission, which is led by retired archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu.
In all, the ANC report detailed 550 armed actions carried out by its armed Spear of the Nation wing, and another 100 incidents that may or may not have been committed by its operatives.
It tried to put the attacks into a political context, saying civilians were never targeted but that the ANC gradually accepted that such casualties were unavoidable.
“We have not attempted to argue that because our struggle was just, this fact justified … unacceptable methods of struggle,” Mbeki said.
Officials said because of the ANC’s loose, secret structure at the time, field operatives often were not in direct communication with their commanders and were susceptible to committing abuses in the heat of battle. These included “necklacings” — when attackers would put a gasoline-soaked tire around someone’s neck, and set it afire.
The ANC said the circumstances in which such attacks occurred had to be considered: rampant state repression and government use of hundreds of informers.
Mbeki, Modise and Transport Minister Mac Maharaj were among current and former Cabinet ministers who applied for amnesty for apartheid crimes on last Saturday’s deadline. However, Monday’s hearings were not directly connected to those applications.
The ANC has said it does not believe an application is required from Mandela, who was in prison for most of the period the Truth Commission is covering.
The report was the ANC’s second voluntary submission to the Truth Commission on crimes and human-rights abuses which occurred before 1994’s all-race elections.