Mandela’s strange links to human rights abuser

PRESIDENT Nelson Mandela this week revealed the ANC had received large donations from Indonesia, the South-East Asia island state internationally condemned for its brutal occupation of East Timor and a menu of repressive measures including extra-judicial execution, detention without trial and torture.

Mandela, who has been criticised for two ANC visits to Indonesia in 1991 and last year, publicly let the cat out of the bag when he received the credentials of Indonesia’s new ambassador to South Africa, Rachadi Iskandar, in Cape Town on Tuesday. Mandela praised Indonesia’s President Suharto for “generous financial assistance” to his party.

Neither the size nor the timing of that assistance is known. Mandela’s representative, Parks Mankahlana, said it was “an ANC matter and has nothing to do with the Office of the President” and that “nothing will be served” by publication of the figures.

ANC head office was unable to provide figures at the time of going to press.

Mandela’s statement came less than a week after a question to Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo about the matter went unanswered during the Foreign Affairs parliamentary budget debate.

National Party MP Joy Chait said during the debate she was “deeply worried” by South Africa’s relationship with Indonesia, charging it had “the most appalling human rights record in the world”.

Chait asked Nzo “whether it is true that the Indonesian government has given vast amounts of money either to the ANC or for foreign aid to this country, as well as whether there are arms trade links between our country and (Indonesian capital) Jakarta”. Nzo did not respond.

It may well be asked whether the Indonesian regime’s courting of the ANC is not an attempt to cultivate South Africa as a strong ally in the Non-Aligned Movement of states. Indonesia, indeed, played a prominent pro-sanctions role in the movement during the international isolation of apartheid South Africa, and may want to bank on that to chip away at its own pariah

But Mankahlana and ANC figures this week insisted there was “nothing mercenary” about the ANC accepting donations from Indonesia or for South Africa to maintain a relationship.

Raymond Suttner, ANC MP and leader of the National Assembly portfolio committee on foreign affairs, said: “It appears the president did raise his concerns (about human rights abuses) with President Suharto during his last visit. My concern is that this may not have been adequately communicated to the public.”

Suttner said the “delicate diplomacy” of raising a sensitive issue effectively may have required that it not be raised publicly, and argued that “a person with the stature of President Mandela” could possibly achieve more by engagement than by disengagement.

Mankahlana said: “The President prefers to have good relations with all countries. A typical situation is Nigeria. Complex as it is, he prefers quiet diplomacy if he is to have any influence. It is nothing unusual.”

The Mail & Guardian revealed earlier this month that Mandela had interceded with Suharto in 1993 after Dr Allan Boesak’s controversial Foundation for Peace and Justice, other non-government organisations and their London partners had lost millions of rands in a collapsed $40-million loan agreement with an Indonesian

The NGOs and the London company lost the money in expenses and “tax” advances to the Indonesian company, which turned out not to have the resources to honour an agreement to make the loan for two real estate developments in South Africa.

The South Africans blamed Indonesian bank Putera Sukapura — closely connected to Suharto — for giving false credit guarantees.

After initial reluctance, Mandela agreed to ask Suharto to hear Boesak in the matter. A meeting resulted later that year, but to date the money has not been recouped.

Three decades of brutality

PRESIDENT SUHARTO came to power in 1965 in a military coup. Amnesty International said in a recent report that “hundreds of thousands of civilians (were) killed by, or with the acquiescence of, military forces in the immediate aftermath of the 1965 coup”.

Suharto is most widely condemned for his brutal invasion of East Timor — one of 13 000 islands of Indonesia — in 1976, the year after the tiny nation gained independence from Portugal. Indonesia still refuses to relinquish the conquest and roughly 300 000 people, a third of the East Timor population, are alleged to have been killed by Suharto’s security

Amnesty says in its report that “the identity and fate of many thousands of people extrajudicially executed or ‘disappeared’ by Indonesian forces over the past three decades in both East Timor and Indonesia remain a mystery”; that detention without charge continues; and that “the problem of torture remains”.

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Stefaans Brummer
Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart, the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy which he detests, coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung.

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