Ahmed Kathrada Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Alongside Nelson Mandela: Reminiscences of a former political prisoner under Apartheid; Conversation with Ahmed Kathrada, 11/8/96 by Harry Kriesler

Photo by S. Beth Atkin

Page 9 of 10

Reconciliation and Justice

One of the debates that the international community is going through right now is how to deal with the people who committed crimes against humanity, the enforcers of this awful regime. And I think one can say that the international community is trying different experiments -- putting people on trial for war crimes, establishing truth commissions, and so on. Tell us about the formula that South Africa is adopting to deal with the people who committed these crimes under the apartheid regime and give us your feelings about your country's response.

The African National Congress has gone into power declaring that we do not want to have another Nuremberg trial. We come into power on a policy of reconciliation, of unity, of reconstructing a country. But at the same time, we would be betraying the years and years of struggle and sacrifices if we don't give an opportunity to people who have been victimized in one form or another, as a healing process which will strengthen the whole process of reconciliation. So the Truth Commission is there, not for the purpose of putting people on trial, but for the purpose of getting people to come and confess what has happened. So up to now we've had scores of victims coming. And their demands are not great. Very few of them said "we want money" as compensation. Their demands were basic human demands: "Show us where my child was shot, buried. Allow us to exhume those bones and give them a proper burial." Such are the demands. But what has happened until recently is that the victims were the only ones coming forward. But there's been a dramatic change in the last month, where the perpetrators have now come forward. Senior police officers who were responsible for perpetrating some of these crimes are now coming forward to ask for amnesty. And in the process, they are revealing where the orders came from. And they have already pointed to ex-President Botha as a person who gave orders. They have pointed to the State Security Council which was taking major decisions about invading other countries, hit squads, and so forth. They are coming out with that. So that you already have one of the former Ministers of Police who's already declared that he is going to ask for amnesty before the Truth Commission. Amnesty is not going to be automatic. Amnesty is going to depend on whether you have committed certain offenses or crimes as part of a political organization. That in itself is not going to be enough. Then it's going to depend on the extent of your crime. Was the killing of a mother and child in Angola (Janet Scone and the little girl called Katrina, their daughter), killing them with a parcel bomb, could you claim that that was justified? Now such people won't get amnesty. Such will be left to the law to take its course. But they'll have to come and show that when they come to the Truth Commission.

I'm curious about your belief in human nature and conversion and redemption and so on. I think at one level you're saying, it is enough that these people come forward and lay out their complicity in the crimes. But at a certain level of complicity a pardon is not possible.

It's not for us to decide, but the Truth Commission to say, "Look, we don't think the extent of your crime, the killing of a little child, we cannot accept that that was part of your political work." They can only stop there. Thereafter, it's left to the Attorney General to prosecute or not to prosecute. The government cannot order the prosecution of anybody. It's left to the course of justice to take.

Next page: Lessons Learned

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