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Apartheid-Era Atrocities Revealed

THE Truth and Reconciliation Commission studied gross human rights violations committed from March 1, 1960 to May 10, 1994. Some 20,000 victims made submissions to the panel, and about 7,500 others applied for amnesty for acts allegedly motivated by politics. The TRC has shed new light on some of apartheid's greatest riddles, although many remain unresolved.

Some new findings:

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How Steve Biko was killed: An inquest 20 years ago found that the Black Consciousness Movement leader died from severe head injuries sustained during his detention Sept. 6, 1977.

But five Security Branch police interrogators denied beating Biko and were exonerated.

Those officers have now applied for amnesty. They say torture was considered an acceptable form of interrogation. In his application, retired Col. Daniel Siebert describes how three of the five officers ran Biko like a battering ram head-first into a wall - an action that plausibly explains the forensic evidence.

Johannesburg bombings: In 1987, an explosion ripped through the headquarters of the Congress of South African Trade Unions. A year later, another bomb shattered the offices of the South African Council of Churches.

In separate hearings, former police commissioner Johan van der Merwe and convicted apartheid police assassin Eugene de Kock testified that the acts were carried out on the direct orders of then-President P.W. Botha. Mr. De Kock described how he used east bloc military hardware to create the impression that the African National Congress was responsible.

Chemical and biological warfare: Hearings revealed that a special military research program sought a substance to sterilize blacks, created special devices - like orange juice laced with strychnine and poisoned chocolates - to kill anti-apartheid activists, and armed Mozambican rebels with biological weapons. The state apparently considered poisoning Nelson Mandela's prison food to incapacitate him mentally prior to his release.

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