Cape Town — A major political storm erupted in South Africa following the decision on November 28 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to grant amnesty to 42 people, among them Deputy president Thabo Mbeki, five cabinet ministers and Trevor Tutu, son of the commission's chairman, Archbishop Tutu.
In a statement, the body probing human rights abuses during the apartheid era said it had granted amnesty to 37 members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and to five white rightwingers.
It named the cabinet ministers as Justice Minister Dullah Omar, Defence Minister Joe Modise, Transport Minister Mac Maharaj, Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo and Environment Minister Pallo Jordan.
Many leaders in the government of President Nelson Mandela applied for amnesty for the various roles they played in the 30-year guerrilla war against the former white minority government.
The truth commission is obliged to grant amnesty to perpetrators of apartheid-era human rights crimes provided full disclosure has been made and the applicant proves a political motive.
Also on the list is Trevor Tutu, maverick son of truth commission chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Trevor Tutu was jailed for three and a half years in August for delaying a plane by making a bomb scare at a South African domestic airport, and in his application for amnesty, he said he made the scare because apartheid security police were harassing him.
The hardline Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) immediately condemned the commission's decision to grant amnesty to Tutu as a travesty of justice. Muendane said there were 200 former guerrilla fighters languishing in jail for helping this country's liberation, but here is Trevor Tutu and what he did had no political motives at all.
"Trevor made an application recently for something that does not look political at all and he got an urgent hearing," PAC secretary general Mike Muendane said, asking, "Do we have to be sons of (truth commission) chairmen to get preferential treatment?"
Muendane was joined on November 30 by other political opposition groups in slamming the decision to grant amnesty to Trevor Tutu, who was released from a three-and-a-half-year prison term on November 28 after being granted amnesty for making the bomb threat in 1989 at East London airport, in Eastern Cape province. The threat delayed a South African Airways flight.
Opposition groups said Trevor Tutu's crime was hardly political, a precondition for amnesty by the truth body which is probing human rights abuses committed on all sides during the apartheid.
"Our feeling is that whoever granted him amnesty stretched the point to almost beyond belief," said Sheila Camerer, justice spokeswoman for the conservative National party.
"He never made anything of being a soldier in the liberation struggle when he faced criminal charges," she said.
Tony Leon, leader of the liberal Democratic party, said the decision "reflects badly on the commission and makes a mockery of the whole amnesty process."
But in a statement issued on November 30, Truth Commission deputy chairman Alex Boraine said the criticisms were "misdirected and based on ignorance of the amnesty process."
Boraine said it was "scandalous" to suggest that Archbishop Tutu interfered with or influenced the amnesty process.
"Archbishop Tutu is a man of absolute integrity and would never resort to seeking special treatment for his son's amnesty application," Boraine said.
He said that the application was not rushed through on account of Tutu's family ties and senior lawyer Christ du Toit, a member of the amnesty committee, was satisfied Trevor Tutu's actions fell within the definition of an "act associated with a political objective."
Because no one had been injured or killed as a result of Tutu's bomb scare, there had been no reason to hold a public hearing, he added. PAC cases, by contrast, mostly involved deaths or injuries of other people and therefore required public hearings.
Archbishop Tutu has himself refused to comment on the decision, saying "he does not want to be drawn into the debate," his spokesman John Allen said.
"He accepts there will be criticism and is happy to face it, as he was not involved in the amnesty decision."