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South Africa Announces Pardons for Apartheid-Era Political Crimes

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki says citizens convicted of political crimes during the apartheid era may apply for presidential pardons. He indicated the program was to complete the work of a reconciliation commission that ended seven years ago. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

South African President Thabo Mbeki told a joint session of parliament the pardons were in the interest of national reconciliation, nation-building and enhancing national cohesion.

But he said they would not undermine the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, known as the TRC, which investigated apartheid-era atrocities.

"For some time since the year 2000 the government has been seized of the challenge to bring to a close the vexing matter of those prisoners serving sentences for what might be considered to be politically motivated crimes of the kind that fell within the brief of the Amnesty Committee of the T.R.C.," said Mr. Mbeki.

Mr. Mbeki said individuals convicted of what they considered to be political offenses could apply for presidential pardons during a three month period beginning on January 15 of next year. He asked each political party to appoint a representative to provide recommendations on the pardon requests.

The South African president said the purpose of the program was to deal with what he called the unfinished business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

But he added that individuals who were refused amnesty by the T.R.C. would not be considered for a pardon. And pardon applications would also be rejected from people convicted of sexual crimes, domestic violence or drug offenses.

More than 7,999 people applied for amnesty under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which heard often-emotional testimony from more than 22,000 victims.

Mr. Mbeki's pardon program covers offenses committed until June of 1999 whereas the Truth and Reconciliation Commission considered crimes committed only until 1994.

As a result, individuals involved in a wave of violence during the years immediately after apartheid, in particular in Kwa-Zulu Natal Province, are expected to benefit the most from the pardon program.

The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party, whose supporters frequently clashed with government supporters during the late 1990s, welcomed the announcement.

But the party's chief whip, Jacobus Van der Merwe criticized the delay in addressing the issue.

"We are delighted and we will obviously cooperate but we deplore the fact that it took seven years to devise this framework to consider political pardons for politically motivated crimes," he said.

The presidency has received more than 1,000 requests for pardons from individuals serving prison sentences for crimes during the apartheid era. Many more are expected before the program closes in mid-April of next year.