Time for real truth and reconciliation

Truth, justice, reconciliation are terms on many South Africans' lips as authorities prepare to try members of the apartheid regime for atrocities committed to uphold white minority rule.

Truth, justice, reconciliation are terms on many South Africans' lips as authorities prepare to try members of the apartheid regime for atrocities committed to uphold white minority rule.

On Friday former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok, former security police chief Johann van der Merwe and three ex-policemen are to appear in court in Pretoria.

They are charged with the attempted murder of Frank Chikane. The two are accused of lacing Chikane's clothes with poison in 1989.

The attack on Chikane, who is now director-general in the Presidency, formed part of a strategy to eliminate apartheid opponents.

These atrocities by the state, together with crimes committed by the anti-apartheid movement, formed the basis for 1996-1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

TRC chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu believed that giving victims the opportunity to tell their story and perpetrators the chance to come clean about their crimes would be a cathartic experience for the then young rainbow nation.

For those who openly confessed and were able to prove their actions were politically motivated there was the promise of amnesty.

After more than two years of TRC hearings, more than 17000 testimonies and about 7000 amnesty applications the country did move on.

Some foot soldiers of the apartheid regime received lengthy jail sentences for gross human rights violations. But the politicians, whose rule they sought to perpetuate, pleaded ignorance to what they called "individual" actions.

Though the law underlining the TRC made it clear that perpetrators of atrocities who snubbed the process, or who failed to tell the truth, remained open to prosecution, there appeared to be little interest to pursue them until now.

Vlok and Van der Merwe's submissions to the TRC, failed to seek amnesty for the Chikane attack which they allegedly masterminded.

Vlok differs from most former apartheid politicians in that he appears to have shown deep remorse.

When the former law and order minister washed Chikane's feet last year in a public act of contrition - and was forgiven by the cleric - many considered his guilt to have been washed away. - Sapa-DPA

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