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NO LESS THAN four official reports have been published since 1992 by the African National Congress (ANC) into human rights abuses perpetrated by the organisation during its years in exile. At least three other organizations have also published reports on the same subject. These documents, plus an abundance of first-hand testimony by former prisoners and officials of the ANC, permit us to reconstruct with some confidence the record of the detention, torture and executions carried out by the ANC in exile, as well as the context in which these events occurred. This constitutes a chapter in the history of the ANC sufficiently important, albeit unpleasant, as to be worthy of further study. In present circumstances, it also has far-reaching implications.
The present article does not attempt to investigate either the legality of the ANC's security policy during its period in exile, nor to compare it with that of other organisations, including notably that of the South African government, whose own human rights record is well known. The article summarises what has been established concerning the ANC's security apparatus in the 1980s, and in particular its response to indiscipline, espionage and widespread criticism by rank and file members of its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in the period 1981-4. It compares this with an earlier, and less well-documented, wave of unrest in 1967-9. In doing so, it concludes that the nature of the ANC in exile changed markedly in the period due to the organisation's militarization under the guidance of the South African Communist Party (SACP), which after 1969 became the dominant force within the ANC's exile leadership, or the External Mission of the ANC as it was formally styled.
For many years the conditions inside ANC training and guerrilla camps were not widely known outside the ranks of ANC members in exile. Howard Barrell, a journalist and ANC member who had good access to information on the inner workings of the ANC in exile, has stated that it was common knowledge among ANC cadres that there were security men who inflicted routine beatings on their victims and for that reason were commonly known as 'panel-beaters'.(1) Nevertheless it remains unclear to what extent ANC cadres in exile were aware of the treatment meted out to their own kind in some detention centres, especially in the ANC's Angolan punishment camp known as Quatro (sometimes wrongly rendered as 'Quadro'). Perhaps surprisingly, the South African government, whose intelligence services were clearly well informed about conditions in the ANC camps, did little to make their information public, not even releasing details of the mutiny which took place in ANC camps in Angola in 1984, and which shook the ANC to its foundations. The first lengthy account of the 1984 mutiny was published only in 1990, written by five former ANC detainees.(2) The ANC itself established a commission of inquiry into the 1984 mutiny and its origins as early as February 1984, known as the Stuart Commission after its chairman James Stuart,(3) a veteran member of the ANC who was elected to the ANC's National Executive Committee in 1985. The report of the Stuart Commission, however, was not released by the ANC until 1993.(4)
The first official inquiry on the abuses in ANC camps to be made public was that chaired by Thembile Louis Skweyiya S.C., a senior member of the South African bar, in 1992.(5) His cousin and fellow lawyer, Zola Skweyiya, was himself an ANC official who in exile was given responsibility for investigating human rights abuses within the organization in the wake of the 1984 mutiny, although by all accounts he was able to make little headway in this work.(6) The Skweyiya Commission was constituted as a result of public and private pressure on the organization to give an account of its conduct during the years of exile.(7) Its terms of reference were restricted to the cases of former detainees who had themselves complained to the ANC. It was empowered to investigate complaints relating to 'the conditions of their detention' and to inquire into 'the allegations of their mistreatment'.(8) Its mandate did not include an investigation of cases of murder or execution. Nor was it empowered to investigate other cases of detention reported to it but in which the victim had not personally complained to the ANC. The Skweyiya Commission did not address, other than in passing, the question of where responsibility lay for these abuses, although it did name several senior ANC officials whom it considered to bear some responsibility for the abuses which had occurred.
Partly because of the limits to its terms of reference, the Skweyiya Commission did not bring an end to pressure on the ANC to launch a more thorough investigation. In consequence, the organization appointed another commission, chaired by Dr Samuel Motsuenyane, a well-known South African businessman, which reported in August 1993.(9) Although the Motsuenyane Commission mentioned the names of two senior ANC officials whom it found to have committed errors of conduct, it again avoided determining the question of which senior ANC leaders might by reason of their office, be held responsible for the abuses which had taken place in exile. Yet another ANC commission of inquiry was that chaired by Z. N. Jobodwana which inquired into the death of Thami Zulu, a prominent officer of Umkhonto we Sizwe who died in 1989 shortly after being released from a period of 14 months during which he was detained by the ANC on suspicion of espionage. The Jobodwana report, which appears to have been drafted by senior ANC and SACP lawyer Albie Sachs, dates from March 1990 but was released only in 1993.(10)
In the meantime, there were at least three other reports on the question, one published in December 1992 by Amnesty International,(11) and another written by Bob Douglas S.C., a South African advocate who had been commissioned by a right-wing lobby, the International Freedom Foundation.(12) A third was published by the International Society for Human Rights, an organization which seemed broadly to share the political standpoint of the International Freedom Foundation.(13) By late 1993 there were also dozens of depositions in circulation in photocopy form by people claiming to have suffered at the hands of the ANC's security apparatus or to have intimate knowledge of such abuses. These and other information were the basis of many newspaper articles either by alleged victims or by senior ANC officials reacting to the various allegations made against the organization or against them personally.
There is evidence that some alleged witnesses or victims of abuses in ANC camps, having returned to South Africa in the early 1990s destitute and, in some cases, embittered received funding and material support from political enemies of the ANC, including possibly from South Africa's Directorate of Military Intelligence. Evidence from sources which may have been affected by considerations of political bias or enmity should, like all other historical evidence, be evaluated in the context not only of what is stated, but of the circumstances and motives for which it was compiled. The fact that a given testimony may have been produced at the request of, or with support from, an organization opposed to the ANC does not make it invalid: it is merely a factor which needs to be assessed in its proper context.
Of all this abundant evidence, the most authoritative documents are probably the three widest-ranging reports produced by the ANC, namely the Stuart, Skweyiya and Motsuenyane Commissions, in 1984, 1992 and 1993 respectively. Since these inquiries were commissioned by the ANC itself, they had better access to internal ANC documents and more power to summon ANC witnesses than any other investigation. Moreover, although there are grounds for criticizing all three inquiries, the Skweyiya Commission in particular was generally regarded by observers at the time of its publication as a courageous and fair report, albeit with rather restricted terms of reference, which was path-breaking in its significance. The Stuart Commission has the merit of having been compiled at the height of the armed struggle, within a few days of the 1984 mutiny, and of having been written for internal consumption rather than with an eye to publication. The Motsuenyane Commission, unlike the Skweyiya and Stuart Commissions, was independent in the sense that it was composed of people who were not members of the ANC, but who had access to ANC documents and witnesses.
Of the other reports, that by Amnesty International has the merit of having been compiled by an organization with acknowledged expertise in its subject and which cannot seriously be suspected of ulterior political motives. The Douglas report, in contrast, was commissioned by an organization which has explicit political aims opposed to those of the ANC.(14) The report contains so many unsubstantiated and often wild allegations, combined with a highly polemical tone, as to make it the least satisfactory of all the various inquiries, notwithstanding its author's qualifications as a Senior Counsel.
These various documents, in spite of their strengths, weaknesses and omissions, agree on a good many points which may therefore be regarded as established beyond any …