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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 642

Paragraph Numbers 1 to 8

Volume 6

Section 5

Chapter 3

Subsection 1

Volume SIX Section FIVE Chapter THREE

Holding the ANC Accountable


1. In its five-volume Final Report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Commission) fully endorsed the international law position that apartheid was a crime against humanity. It also recognised that both the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were internationally recognised liberation movements that conducted a legitimate struggle against the former South African government and its policy of apartheid.

2. The Commission noted that the ANC made submissions to the Commission, including handing over a report on internal inquiries it had conducted in exile. It is important to restate that the ANC was, in all respects, more frank and cooperative with the Commission than either the state or the PAC.


3.The Commission noted that, of the three main parties to the conflict, only the ANC committed itself to observing the tenets of the Geneva Protocols and, in the main, conducting the armed struggle in accordance with international humanitarian law. This report acknowledges the commitment of the ANC to upholding the Geneva Protocols as well as its comparative restraint in conducting the armed struggle – at least in terms of the manner in which it identified its targets and its leadership’s decision to instruct its cadres to abandon the land-mine campaign when it became clear that it was resulting in the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians.

4. However, the Commission drew a distinction between the conduct of a ‘just war’ and the question of ‘just means’. The Commission found that, whilst its struggle was just, the ANC had, in the course of the conflict, contravened the Geneva Protocols and was responsible for the commission of gross human rights violations. For this reason the Commission held that the ANC and its organs – the National Executive Council (NEC), the Secretariat and its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – had, in the course of their political activities and in the conduct of the armed struggle, committed gross human rights violations for which they are morally and politically accountable.


5. As mentioned above, the Commission wishes to place on record that it sought in its findings to draw a distinction between a ‘just war’ and ‘just means’. It did not criminalise the struggle. It was, however, obliged in terms of its mandate set out in its founding Act56 to determine the question of responsibility for the commission of gross human rights violations.

6. On the eve of handing over its Final Report, the ANC sought to interdict the Commission from doing so. The essence of the application was to challenge the Commission’s interpretation of the audi alterem partem rule and to compel the Commission to meet with it to discuss the proposed findings. This court challenge is dealt with in Section One, Chapter Four of this volume. The High Court of the Western Cape found against the ANC, thereby allowing the Commission to hand its report over to President Mandela. There was, however, a great deal of acrimony between the Commission and the ANC about the findings made. Yet the fact is that the Commission said nothing that had not already been brought to the Commission by the ANC itself. It was indeed the ANC’s disclosures and acknowledgment that gross human rights violations had been committed in the conduct of the struggle that assisted the Commission in coming to its conclusions.

7. In February 1999, at a sitting of both houses of parliament convened to discuss the Report, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki reiterated his complaint that the ANC had not been able to meet with the Commission to discuss its findings against the ANC. He made the following statement:

What we had sought to discuss with the TRC pertained to such obviously important matters as the definition of the concept of gross violations of human rights in the context of a war situation and other issues relating to war and peace and the humane conduct of warfare. One of the central matters at issue was, and remains, the erroneous determination of various actions of our liberat i o n movement as gross violations of human rights, including the general implication that any and all military activity which results in the loss of civilian lives constitutes a gross violation of human rights. Indeed, it could also be said that the erroneous logic followed by the TRC, which was contrary even to the Geneva Conventions and Protocols governing the conduct of warfare, would result in the characterisation of all irregular wars of liberation as tantamount to a gross violation of human rights. We cannot accept such a conclusion5 7 .

8. The Commission is not required to respond to criticism of its findings by the ANC and other critics. However, at the time that the findings of responsibility were made, the work of the Amnesty Committee was not complete and there was some expectation that the Commission would re-examine these findings in the light of the amnesty decisions and the evidence received through this process. In doing so, it is necessary to deal with both international law and international humanitarian law.

56 The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act No. 34 of 1995, (the A c t ) .
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