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South Africa to Pay Some Apartheid Victims $4,000 - 2003-04-15

The president of South Africa has announced a one-time payment of about $4,000 to victims of the apartheid system. The news came as he presented Parliament with the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

President Thabo Mbeki told Parliament he has authorized a payment of 30,000 South African rand, or just under $4,000, to individual apartheid victims designated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC.

President Mbeki said he hopes the payment will bring some relief to people who suffered under the apartheid system, or to their surviving relatives.

"We do so with some apprehension, for as the TRC has underlined, no one can attach monetary value to life and to suffering. Nor can an argument be sustained that the efforts of millions of South Africans to liberate themselves were for monetary gain," said President Mbeki. "We are convinced that to the millions who spared neither life nor limb in the struggle, there is no bigger prize than freedom itself, and the continuing struggle to build a better life for all."

About 22,000 apartheid victims or surviving family members testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC says about 19,000 of them need urgent reparations.

Mr. Mbeki said the government plans to process the payments as a matter of urgency during the current financial year. He said the lump-sum payment will be made in addition to other forms of reparations, including symbolic changes and the rehabilitation of marginalized communities.

Mr. Mbeki also rejected the class-action lawsuits against major corporations, which have been filed in U.S. courts in recent months, in the name of apartheid victims. To applause from the lawmakers, he said the government is not and will never be a party to those court cases.

"In addition," stressed the president, "we consider it completely unacceptable that matters that are central to the future of our country should be adjudicated in foreign courts, which bear no responsibility for the well-being of our country and the observance of the perspective contained in our constitution of the promotion of national reconciliation."

Finally, in an announcement that has already been welcomed by a number of analysts, Mr. Mbeki announced there will be no blanket amnesty for perpetrators of human rights violations under the apartheid system.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission allowed individuals to apply for amnesty for their past wrongs. The commission made decisions based on the often-wrenching testimony of both perpetrators and victims.

Mr. Mbeki said the country must acknowledge that many people who committed gross human rights violations did not take part in the TRC process. But there have been few prosecutions of those who refused to apply for amnesty or were denied it by the Commission.

The president ruled out a general amnesty for apartheid-era crimes, saying it would undermine the entire TRC process. He said the director of public prosecutions is free to pursue any cases he feels are deserving of prosecution.

But he also indicated the state will be willing to accept plea bargains from people who are willing to testify in those trials, or to turn over information that might be helpful in prosecuting human rights violators.