Amnesty: Interim Constitution Accord

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993, Chapter 16, National Unity and Reconciliation:

In order to advance such reconciliation and reconstruction, amnesty shall be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offenses associated with political objectives and committed in the course of the conflicts of the past. To this end, Parliament under this Constitution shall adopt a law determining a firm cut-off date, which shall be a date after 8 Oct 1990 and before 6 Dec 1993, and providing for the mechanisms, criteria and procedures, including tribunals, if any, through which such amnesty shall be dealt with at any time after the law has been passed.

Implementation History


Minimum Implementation

Negotiations over the issue of amnesty in South Africa began before the 1993 accord was formally signed. The African National Congress rejected a blanket amnesty policy which was was brought forth by the government as a means of absolving killers and torturers among the government security forces.1

The South African government sent legislation to the white-controlled Parliament that would protect state officials against prosecution under a systematic amnesty. The ANC was fearful that the law would be used to erase evidence of assassinations, torture and other atrocities by defenders of apartheid, and condemned the measure as tantamount to a criminal pardoning himself.2 However, Parliament defeated the amnesty bill on October 21, 1992.3

After the amnesty bill’s defeat in the parliament, the 60-member president’s council permitted Mr. de Klerk to sign the bill into law. “But the Council recommended that the bill be changed to require the disclosure of crimes committed by people who receive amnesty”. Since the recommendation was not mandatory, critics of the bill have said that the measure amounted to a blanket pardon of security force members who tortured and killed in defense of apartheid.4

  • 1. "ANC rejects blanket amnesty for South Africa troops, police," The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario), August 18, 1992.
  • 2. "South Africa Extends Political Amnesty," The New York Times, October 17, 1992, p. 3.
  • 3. "South Africa's Amnesty Bill Defeated; De Klerk Seeks Override by Submitting Proposal to Special Deadlock-Breaking Body," The Washington Post, October 22, 1992, p. A26.
  • 4. "Panel in South Africa Backs De Klerk's Plan for Amnesty," The New York Times, October 31, 1992, p. 4.

Minimum Implementation

The ANC–led government was not able to work out a compromise bill on amnesty. Therefore, the government made a decision to propose a bill to Parliament. According to the provision, “anyone seeking amnesty for crimes defending or opposing apartheid would have to tell the Truth Commission details of what they did and have their names and the events they were involved in published. Once granted amnesty, they could never be prosecuted or sued for their activities.”5

  • 5. "SOUTH AFRICA DECLARES PLANS TO GO WITH OWN AMNESTY BILL," News & Record (Greensboro, NC), October 21, 1994.

Minimum Implementation

On April 5, 1995, the cabinet approved the draft bill for the TRC. The cut-off date for amnesty regarding political crime remained December 5, 1993, despite protests from various sources.6 As of July 1995, “more than 2,000 members of the former liberation movements in South Africa have applied for amnesty for crimes committed with a political objective.”7 However, issues related to the cut-off date remained contentious.

  • 6. "South Africa; Cabinet approves draft amnesty bill," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, April 7, 1995.
  • 7. "SOUTH AFRICA; Justice minister says over 2,000 have applied for amnesty for political crimes," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, August 1, 1995.

Minimum Implementation

On September 3, 1996, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted its first amnesty after hearing a case that met the criteria set out in the law.8 By December 6, 1996, the TRC had received approximately 3,500 applications for amnesty.9

  • 8. "South Africa; Truth Panel Issues First Amnesty," Africa News, September 3, 1996.
  • 9. "South Africa; Truth Commission Issues Amnesty Statistics," Africa News, December 6, 1996.

Minimum Implementation

Before the May 10, 1997 deadline, 7,046 applicants applied to the TRC for amnesty for political crimes. By the end of 1997, the Truth Commission's amnesty committee had dealt with only 2,575 amnesty applications. Public hearings continued in order to consider another 1,387 applications involving around 7,000 different incidents.10

  • 10. "South Africa; Huge backlog set to prolong life of amnesty process," Africa News, January 28, 1998.

Intermediate Implementation

The TRC granted amnesty to 37 senior African National Congress members, but the commission and the National Party successfully challenged the decision of the TRC in a Cape High Court. The TRC then decided to appoint a new panel to review the amnesty application of these 37 ANC members.11

Even though the application for amnesty was said to be closed in May 1997, former security personnel, as well as politicians, applied for amnesty. According to Associate Press, by August 1998, the TRC processed 4,443 applications 7,060. The TRC granted amnesty to 151 people and denied it for the rest.12

  • 11. "South Africa; New panel to investigate blanket amnesty 1998," Africa News, May 26, 1998.
  • 12. "Truth panel has dealt with two thirds of amnesties in South Africa," Associated Press, August 07, 1998.

Intermediate Implementation

On December 10, 1999, the TRC announced that it had granted amnesty to 568 applicants and refused 5,287 other applicants.13

  • 13. "South Africa Politics; Commission Granted Amnesty To 568 Applicants," Africa News, December 10, 1999.

Intermediate Implementation

The TRC hearing on amnesty continued. No statistics available.


Intermediate Implementation

On May 31, 2001, the amnesty committee of the TRC finished its hearings from both sides during the liberation struggle. By March 2001, the committee had received 7,100 requests for pardons for crimes committed under apartheid. A total of 913 were granted and 5,457 refused. The committee had “recommended the government pay victims long-term reparations of between 17,000 and 22,000 rand (2,100 and 2,700 dollars) a year for six years for a total cost of some three billion rand (375 million dollars)."14

  • 14. "South Africa's amnesty committee wound up," Agence France Presse – English, June 1, 2001.

Intermediate Implementation

Amnesty continued to be debated on a case by case basis for several years; no further major developments were reported.