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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 44
Paragraph Numbers 42 to 54
42. Applications from persons claiming to have been members or supporters of APLA – the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) – presented the Committee with problems peculiar to this particular category of applicants.
43. These problems resulted from certain policies of the organisation, acknowledged by their leaders, which sometimes made it difficult to distinguish between acts associated with a political objective committed by bona fide APLA members and purely criminal acts committed for personal gain, often coupled with severe assault and murder.
44. The first such policy was that expressed in the APLA slogan ‘one settler, one bullet’. Given the fact that APLA and the PAC regarded all white people as settlers, this slogan actually translated into ‘one white person, one bullet’. Thus individuals became legitimate targets simply because of the colour of their skin, as in the case of the white American exchange student, Ms Amy Biehl3 1, the patrons of the Heidelberg Tavern3 2, the King William’s Town Golf Club, and the Crazy Beat discotheque in Newcastle. These were, of course, analogous to incidents that involved members or supporters of the white right-wing organisation, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AW B )3 3, where black people were seen as supporters of the ANC and/or communists simply because they were black, and became targets as a result .
45. The second problematic policy position related to the ‘repossession’ of property. Particular difficulties arose in respect of ‘repossessed’ goods that, unlike firearms, could not be used directly in the furtherance of the liberation struggle. Many amnesty applications by APLA operatives involved the robbery or theft of a variety of goods and valuables, including cash and vehicles. They often alleged that some of the proceeds of these operations were used as subsistence for the operatives: that is, the proceeds provided their means of survival so that they could continue with their political work. Where goods other than cash were ‘ repossessed’, it was claimed that these were sold to raise funds for the liberation struggle. APLA commanders who testified at hearings were at pains to point out that they viewed these acts of theft and robbery as the legitimate repossession of goods to which the African people of South Africa were rightfully entitled, in line with APLA policy.
46. In dealing with the APLA applications, the first issue the Committee had to resolve was whether these were bona fide operations associated with the liberation struggle. The Committee adopted the approach that amnesty would be refused if the applicants were unable to satisfy the Committee that the property involved had either been handed over to APLA or used in accordance with APLA policy in furtherance of the liberation struggle.
47. Given the open-ended nature of this ‘repossession’ policy, it was not surprising that a large number of prison inmates attempted to obtain amnesty ostensibly under the flag of the PAC or APLA. The Committee initially inclined to the view that all these doubtful matters could be dealt with in chambers. However, it later adopted a more cautious approach, with the result that many alleged APLA cases were later revisited and referred to a public hearing.
48. A further difficulty that bedevilled the Committee in assessing the APLA applications was the somewhat loose structure of the APLA units that operated inside the country and, in particular, the ‘task force’ or ‘township trainees’ recruited by trained APLA commanders to assist in operations. According to the general submission of the PAC to the Commission, as well as the evidence of APLA commanders at hearings, these task force members were often recruit e d f rom the ranks of known criminals both in and outside prison. This was done, it was suggested in evidence, specifically because people with criminal records w e re best suited to the task of ‘repossession’ by means of theft and robber y.
49. The use of code names, the unavailability of APLA re cords and the impossibility at times of ascertaining the true identity of individual amnesty applicants further compounded the problems experienced by the Committee. According to the testimony of APLA commanders, the re c ords of the organisation had been confiscated by the police and never returned. A further difficulty arose from the fact that the PAC and APLA maintained independent organisational structure s . This duality is illustrated by the fact that, in the early 1990s, the PAC leadership – which represented the political wing of the organisation – suspended the armed struggle, while APLA, the military wing, continued with the armed struggle in apparent conflict with the PAC position. The resultant confusion presented a further difficulty for the Committee when it came to apply the amnesty-qualifying criteria of the Act – such as the provision that the act under consideration had to be ‘associated with a political objective’.
50. The Committee sought the assistance of the PAC and APLA leadership in an attempt to ascertain the truth or relevant information to shed more light on particular aspects of various applications. Unfortunately this assistance was very seldom forthcoming. In those cases where assistance was given, it took an inordinately long time before a query was responded to.
51. Bold allegations of APLA membership or APLA involvement, uncorroborated by any objective proof, were obviously insufficient to comply with the requirements of the Act. Unfortunately, in many instances, APLA commanders failed to attend hearings or to come to the assistance of applicants. This left the Committee in the position of having to test alleged APLA membership or involvement in incidents as best as it could, for example by evaluating an applicant’s knowledge of the history, policies and structures of the organisation .31 Volume One, p. 11 ; Volume Three, p. 510 . 32 Volume Three, p.508. 33 Volume One, p.120; Volume Two, pp.643,645 – 8 , 665 ; Volume Five, pp.209,237.
52. In line with the provisions of the Act, the Committee was obliged to deal with any application concerning a gross violation of human rights at a public hear i n g .34 This part of the Committee’s mandate encompassed its most visible activities and was its public face. Although the Act provided for hearings to be held behind closed doors under exceptional circumstances, all the hearings conducted by the Committee were accessible to members of the public as well as to all sectors of the media, including television. The media covered most of the hearings and gave particularly extensive coverage to the cases considered to be high-profile amnesty applications, although this coverage and interest waned towards the end of the process.
Constitution of panels
53. The Act empowered the chairperson of the Committee to constitute subcommittees or hearings panels, which had to be presided over by a High Court judge. Normally a hearings panel would consist of three members who constituted a quorum, though at times, and in more complex matters, panels of up to five members were established.3 5 An effort was always made to ensure that panels w e re representative of the racial and gender composition of the Committee itself, taking into account the exigencies of the particular case. Other releva n t factors such as language were also taken into account. In applications involving official languages other than English, an effort was made to ensure that at least some members of the panel were proficient in the language in question, although a simultaneous interpretation service was provided at every hearing. This approach significantly facilitated the work and deliberations of the hearings panel outside of the formal hearing itself.
54. T here is no doubt that the general re p resentivity of the hearings panels greatly benefited the hearings process and helped the panels to deal with and appreciate the nuances of particular cases, enhancing the ultimate quality of decision-making within the Committee.34 Subsections 19(3)(b)(iii) & (4). 35 There is no statutory quorum requirement set out in the A c t . The quorum stipulation was established by decision of the Committee. The Act initially provided for a single committee of five members to consider applications. Th i s soon proved impractical in view of the tremendous workload of the Committee. The Act was consequently amended to expand the membership of the Committee and to provide for multiple hearings panels in order to expedite finalisation of the work of the Committee within the general time constraints that applied to the Commission’s process as a whole. It was, therefore, only on rare occasions that panels of more than three members were constituted later on in the process.