Human Rights Developments
South Africa=s African National Congress (ANC)-led government continued its reforming drive during 1996, but also faced significant checks in its stated ambition to reduce some of the inequalities in South African society and introduce a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law. While further legislation aimed at ending longstanding abuses was adopted and a draft constitution containing a strong bill of rights completed, the government faced and in some cases conceded to demandsCin the context of rising public concern about violent crimeCfor repressive law-and-order measures. Following the completion in May of the draft constitution that was submitted to the constitutional court for certification, the National Party left the government of national unity (GNU) to become the largest opposition party. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which had not participated in the constitutional discussions, remained in
the GNU. In 1996, South Africa ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples= Rights.
A draft final constitution was adopted by the constitutional assembly in May to replace the interim constitution that came into force on April 27, 1994. Under the certification process provided by the interim constitution, the final constitution was subject to certification by the constitutional court to comply with a set of Aconstitutional principles.@ Although the court found that it Acomplies with the overwhelming majority of the requirements of the [constitutional principles],@ it referred certain sections back to the constitutional assembly for amendment, including those relating to the powers of provincial and local government. The bill of rights, including protections for some economic and social rights, was certified, except for the right to collective bargaining for employers. The constitutional assembly reconvened in September to draft amendments to take into account the objections of the court. A revised draft was adopted on October 11, which was in turn to be submitted to the court for certification on November 18.
Local government elections went ahead in the Cape Town metropolitan area and in KwaZulu-Natal province in May and June, respectively, where they had been postponed from 1995 as a result of confusion over electoral arrangements and continuing political violence. In both cases, the vote took place without serious irregularities in the conduct of the poll and all parties accepted the results. The final results in KwaZulu-Natal showed that the ANC held urban areas, with the IFP continuing to prevail in the rural areas of the former KwaZulu Ahomeland.@
Political violence nevertheless continued to simmer in KwaZulu-Natal. Reduced levels of violence in the province were at least in part due to more effective policing. Nevertheless, the nongovernmental monitoring organization, the Human Rights Committee of South Africa, recorded 374 deaths in political violence in KwaZulu-Natal to the end of September. On the southern coast of KwaZulu-Natal, for example, a special investigation team arrested over one hundred people during 1996 and charged them in connection with offenses related to political violence. Among over thirty other suspects, three policemen from the Port Shepstone police station were charged with murder in connection with a Christmas Day 1995 massacre of nineteen people in Shobashobane. Initially suspended, they were allowed to return to duty in August, although the case against them remained pending. In Cape Town, gang violence led to the emergence of a vigilante response in the form of a group calling itself People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, which was responsible for the killing of a well-known gang leader in August.
A notorious massacre of the past was examined in the trial of former defense minister Magnus Malan and nineteen others. The defendants were accused of involvement in the 1987 massacre of fourteen family members of an ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal, either directly, or through the design or management of a scheme in which individuals were trained by the South African Defence Force to carry out political assassinations or promote political violence. Three of the accused were discharged in May after the prosecution closed its case, including the former head of the South African Defence Force Department of Military Intelligence, Gen. Tienie Groenewald, on the grounds that the state had failed to submit sufficient evidence against them. In mid-October, the remainder of the defendants were acquitted, amid accusations that the prosecution had not been as well conducted as it might have been by the KwaZulu-Natal attorney-general.
In September, Eugene de Kock, commander under the previous government of the notorious, once secret Vlakplaas unit of the security police, was found guilty in August of six murders and eighty-three other crimes. In his plea in mitigation before sentencing, de Kock implicated senior members of the former government in Adirty tricks@ activities against anti-apartheid activists and in the promotion of political violence by covert supply of weapons and other means. Among those named were previous presidents P.W. Botha, current National Party leader F.W. de Klerk, and a number of generals in the army and senior police officers. De Kock also said that South Africa had been behind the 1986 murder of Swedish premier Olaf Palme.
The National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, sworn into office in December 1995, held hearings around the country during the year, at which past victims of rights abuses told their stories. The legislation establishing the truth commission empowered it to compile as full a record as possible of gross human rights violations during the period March 21, 1960 to December 6, 1993; to recommend the award of reparations to the victims, and to grant amnesty to perpetrators in return for full disclosure of the acts they had committed. Comparatively few perpetrators came forward during the year, and most of those who did apply for amnesty were already in prison, convicted of offenses which they claimed to be political. Political parties were also given an opportunity to present their views of the conflicts of the past. The National Party apologized for the suffering caused by apartheid, but once again failed to acknowledge that its policies of Aseparate development@ in themselves were wrong. In a much fuller submission, the ANC accepted responsibility for the abuses carried out in its own camps in Zambia and Tanzania, while giving a detailed analysis of the context of its own armed struggle.
On August 9, national women=s day, the truth commission held hearings dedicated solely to violations against women. Contemporary violations of women=s rights also received attention during the year. A twenty-eight member parliamentary committee was established to monitor the commitments made by the government under the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, ratified in 1995, and at the 1995 U.N. conference on women in Beijing. A women=s office was also established in the office of the president. Legislation establishing an independent Agender commission@ was passed in June, although the body was not yet functional by November. The South African Law Commission announced that it was undertaking a review of the 1993 Prevention of Family Violence Act, under which over 20,000 interdicts (restraining orders) had been granted to victims of domestic violence by the end of 1995, addressing some of the weaknesses of the act criticized by lawyers and women=s rights campaigners. In May, the government launched a national program of action for children, taking account of the 1995 ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Police reform continued during the year. In August, an executive director was appointed for the Independent Complaints Directorate provided for in the 1995 police act to investigate complaints against the police, although the directorate was not yet functioning at the time of writing. Human rights organizations also expressed concerns that the directorate would have insufficient powers to be effective, and that anti-corruption units established in the police service at national level would not come under its control. Despite some efforts to take action against abusive officers, victim statements and court-authorized raids on police stations revealed that torture equipment, such as rubber hoods and electric shock materials, was still in use against criminal suspects or witnesses in many areas. Police corruption remained widespread, as did collusion with organized crime.
A national anti-crime strategy was announced in May, which included measures to improve investigation of crime, reduce corruption in the police, take action against gangs, promote victim support schemes, prohibit the carrying of firearms at certain gatherings, make bail conditions tougher and improve throughput of cases in the courts. However, in the face of public demands for stronger action against violent crime, more repressive measures were also announced, including the construction of new Asuper-maximum security prisons.@ In September, the ANC announced that it would review its opposition to the death penalty. Legislation was passed allowing children accused of serious crimes to be held in prison or police detention cells, reversing earlier legislation which limited detention of children to a maximum of twenty-four hours. However, a government report published in September confirmed allegations of abuse of children held in Aplaces of safety,@ which hold children considered at risk in their home environment as well as youths that await trial.
Little progress was made towards prison reform during the year. The Correctional Services Transformation Forum, formed in 1995 to guide the process of reform in the prisons with participants from a variety of interested groups, was disbanded after failing to make significant progress. In April the prison service was officially demilitarized on the order of the minister of correctional services, but the measure was criticized both by prison officers and by human rights groups for being badly implemented. Prison disturbances took place at a number of prisons during the year: in two of the worst incidents, four prisoners were killed in a January riot in Barberton prison, and three in a September riot at Upington. In response to calls by human rights groups for the appointment of a prisons inspectorate, it was announced that an Ainspecting judge@ for the prison system would be appointed.
Although both the U.N. and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) conventions on refugees were ratified by South Africa in 1995, policy towards refugees and undocumented aliens remained problematic. More than 150,000 aliens were deported in 1995, and deportation continued at the same rate in 1996, usually without regard to a deportee=s right to a hearing. Immigrants were often the target for police harassment, and routinely blamed by politicians and others, without good evidence, for the reported rise in crime. In June, a limited amnesty for nationals of countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who were illegally resident in South Africa was announced in June, and in July SADC countries met with representatives of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and agreed to cooperate in formulating refugee policies.
South Africa=s foreign policy exhibited a lack of strong leadership during 1996. Contradictory statements were issued on relations with Libya, Cuba and Iran, in particular, as South Africa responded to U.S. and other criticism for its attitude to those countries. President Nelson Mandela led the international outcry at the execution of nine Ogoni rights activists in November 1995 that resulted in the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth and other measures (see Nigeria section). South Africa changed its stance during 1996, however, in the face of the reluctance of other African countries to take a strong position, and did not back the appointment of a special rapporteur on Nigeria proposed at the 1996 session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. South Africa followed the OAU in imposing sanctions on the government that took power in Burundi after a military coup in July. The second report of the Cameron Commission, investigating South Africa=s arms trade, was published in March, and recommended wholesale reforms of the procedures for licensing arms sales: a decision to supply arms to the current government of Rwanda was taken in accordance with these new procedures. South Africa made contributions toward the peacekeeping efforts of the OAU and of the U.N. in Angola.
The Right to Monitor
There were no restrictions on the right to monitor human rights violations in South Africa during 1996. Nongovernmental human rights organizations, however, faced a budget crisis as foreign funding, directed to the nongovernmental sector before 1994, continued to be redirected to government projects. A number of independent statutory bodies mandated to monitor government activity began to function, including the Human Rights Commission, charged with promoting respect for human rights and investigating violations, and the Public Protector, charged to investigate misconduct in public administration. While there were criticisms of the first work of these bodies, they promised to perform a useful function in the future.
The Role of the International Community
The contribution of other countries to human rights in South Africa during 1996 consisted largely of financial assistance to the ANC government=s Areconstruction and development program@ and to nongovernmental human rights organizations. A number of specifically human rights-related projects were announced during the year, including the creation of a European Union Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, funded by the European Union (E.U.), South Africa=s largest bilateral donor. The foundation was created to implement the E.U.=s human rights program in South Africa, disbursing R.86 million (US$19 million) for 1996 to 1999. The E.U. also granted R.10.7 million ($2.4 million) to the truth commission. U.S. AID pledged R.14 million ($3.1 million) to a consortium of nongovernmental bodies involved in public interest law and human rights under the umbrella of the National Institute for Public Interest Law and Research and pledged to spend a similar amount over the next financial year. In addition, U.S. AID gave $9.5 million to the Ministry of Justice to train lawyers, judges and magistrates; carry out law reform; conduct human rights education; and increase access to the judicial system. U.S. Peace Corps volunteers were scheduled to arrive in South Africa for the first time in January 1997. Canada promised to provide at least R.20 million ($4.4 million) over four years to help upgrade South Africa=s judicial system. Britain provided assistance toward redeveloping police training programs, and toward the restructuring of the defense force.