Apartheid White-Out

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Why shoot the messenger when you can simply erase the message? South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission agreed Wednesday to excise the name of President F. W. De Klerk from its report on human rights abuses, after the last apartheid leader threatened to sue. Hours later, Nelson Mandela's African National Congress announced its own court action to block the commission publishing allegations of torture against the organization. Archbishop Desmond Tutu's commission is a form of post-apartheid war-crimes tribunal in which perpetrators are granted amnesty in exchange for fessing up. "This simply adds to the sense that the commission's report will be fairly meaningless, that it's not going to go anywhere," says TIME South Africa bureau chief Peter Hawthorne. "If De Klerk can get his name taken out, what about all the others?" Indeed, the commission admits that at least 14 other individuals have argued their way out of the report.

That doesn't bode well for the objective of putting the country at peace with its past. "All the political parties are saying they're unhappy with the commission, which ironically gives it a measure of credibility," says Hawthorne. Some of that may be erased along with names such as De Klerk's. Reconciliation had always seemed the harder part of the commission's mandate; now even truth, in some instances, is proving elusive.