S Africa's Mbeki to reconsider apartheid pardons

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CAPE TOWN, Nov 21 (Reuters) South African President Thabo Mbeki will reconsider amnesty applications from people whose initial bids were rejected by a special tribunal that probed apartheid-era crimes.

The new drive comes almost 13 years after the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard heart-rending testimony from victims and bone-chilling evidence of apartheid state sponsored violence.

''As a way forward and in the interest of nation-building (and) national reconciliation ... consideration has therefore been given to the use of the presidential pardon to deal with this unfinished business,'' Mbeki told a joint sitting of parliament.

Mbeki requested political parties to nominate individuals to a panel that would help him consider the requests.

He said authorities were in possession of at least 1,062 applications for pardons from people who were found guilty of offences which they say were politically motivated.

Mbeki said from Jan. 15 to April 15 next year those who were convicted of such offences would have an opportunity to apply for a presidential pardon.

However, Mbeki said those convicted of offences of a sexual nature, domestic violence or drug-related crimes would not be considered.

Shortly after winning South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, the African National Congress-led government promulgated legislation seeking to promote racial unity.

This led to the establishment of the TRC, chaired by an often tearful Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which granted amnesty to those it deemed had disclosed the full truth about their crimes.

But the TRC was criticised by opposition parties as being an ANC tool, more so when it granted amnesty to 37 high-ranking ANC officials, including then deputy president Mbeki.

This blanket amnesty was overturned in a High Court, but with many opposition party members languishing in prison, the stigma of ANC bias remained, particularly among fellow liberation movements such as the Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian People's Organisation.

Today, Mbeki said the government had since 2000 been considering the plight of those imprisoned who might have been granted amnesty.


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