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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Romania, South Africa Look to the Future With Different Approaches to the Past

Aired January 2, 2000 - 2:40 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Romania and South Africa are two countries whose pasts are dotted with human injustices. For decades, Romanians lived under communism and the powerful rule of a dictator. For their part, black South Africans lived in constant fear under leaders who promoted and tolerated racism.

As CNN's Mike Hanna reports, the future of both nations may now depend on how successfully they deal with the past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Romania, a bloody revolution. Over the course of two weeks, some 1,000 civilians killed as security forces attempted to prop up the tattering communist regime.

In South Africa, too, a violent battle for democracy, one that took place over decades and saw tens of thousands of people die in the struggle against a white apartheid regime.

In Romania, the dictator Nikolai Ceausescu and his wife were executed by firing squad, but no one else has been held responsible for the 1989 deaths of civilians.

In South Africa, an attempt made to confront the past and to apportion responsibility for acts of violence.

Two nations on two continents, one facing the past, the other ignoring it.

For many Romanians, the failure to call to account those that opened fire on demonstrators in the streets is a betrayal of those who died..

DR. TRAIAN ORBAN, REVOLUTION MEMORIAL ASSN.: This is a victim room. The victims against the criminals.

HANNA: In Tama Schwarez' (ph) Museum of the Revolution, the faces of those who died on one wall, on the other the names of the army and police officers who ordered their men to open fire.

ORBAN: The people demonstrate -- you can see. You can see the faces of officers. They are very important photos. Now, they have power in our army, defense army. This museum is a protest against criminals.

HANNA: Not a single officer has been brought to trial. Many of them, in fact, promoted in the 10 years since the revolution, as their military careers followed a normal course. And politicians continue to debate the need for the past to be acknowledged in some way, some arguing that open trials should be held, others asking for a general amnesty to be formally proclaimed. But in a country suffering deep economic hardship, a few believe it's not the past that has to be confronted, but the present and the future.

EMIL CONSTANTINESCU, PRESIDENT OF ROMANIA (through translator): But I don't want to lay all the blame on the past. There is nothing to win out of that. What we are oriented to is to manage correctly the present and to organize a long-term future.

HANNA: In South Africa, it was determined that a Democratic future depended on a confrontation of the past. Under the chairmanship of Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, a truth and reconciliation commission was established, it's task to examine the past, to hear the voice of those who suffered and to provide a vehicle through which those admitting to crimes against humanity could claim amnesty. It's a process that's been full of pain and anger.

Clive Derby Lewis is serving a life sentence for the murder of a prominent black politician. In front of the wife and children of the man whose murder he planned, Derby Lewis took advantage of the platform to justify extreme right-wing views that his years in prison seemed only to have hardened.

CLIVE DERBY LEWIS, CONVICTED MURDERER: African people are not as technologically as advanced as Western people. I don't see that as a racist statement, I see that as a statement of fact.

HANNA: The amnesty application was refused on the grounds that Derby Lewis did not the reveal whole truth. But his evidence appeared to infect old wounds rather than help heal them.

WINNIE MADIKIZELA MANDELA, FORMER WIFE OF PRESIDENT MANDELA: They are as arrogant as ever, and if anything they have come to insult us here. You heard them saying that blacks love making babies. That kind of talk in the hearing that is supposed to heal those feelings. Come on, it's a joke.

HANNA: A former activist and present member of parliament, Tony Vengeni, was one of those who faced his tormentor.

JEFF BENZINE, FORMER POLICE CAPTAIN: My method of interrogation was torture.

HANNA: Police Captain Jeff Benzine was ordered to demonstrate to the truth commission his favorite method of torture, the suffocation of victims with a wet bag, a method Tony Vengeni and many others were subjected to. TONY VENGENI, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: What kind of man that uses a method like this one of the wet bag to people, to other human beings, repeatedly? And listening to those moans and cries and groans, and taking each one of those people very near to their deaths? What kind of man are you? What you kind of man is that?

HANNA: And yet despite the pain, Tony Vengeni was willing to forgive the torturer, who admitted guilt and told the truth.

VENGENI: We hear mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters say, we forgive them. It's amazing. But I must say it's not easy. It's a very, very complex and emotional matter that -- it explodes. It threatens the very fabric of our country, of our newly found democracy. And you can't allow that to happen.

HANNA: Like Jeff Benzine, these three youths were also granted amnesty. They were serving life sentences after killing 11 people in an attack on a Capetown church in July 1993. Among those they murdered, the wife of David Akaman (ph).

DAVID AKAMAN: My wife was sitting at the door right where you came in. She was wearing a long blue coat. Can you remember if you shot her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I do remember that I fired some shots. I don't know whom did I shoot or not, but my gun was pointed at the people. We are asking from you, please do forgive us.

AKAMAN: I want you to know that I forgive you unconditionally.

HANNA: Despite the pain and the anger, Desmond Tutu believes the truth commission has served a vital purpose in ensuring that a negotiated peace settlement survived.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU, NOBEL PRIZE LAUREATE: And that settlement would not have happened if you had not had the provision of amnesty. Because it is quite clear the security forces would certainly not have supported it. And we have to accept that that is the price we were called to pay, or we had to face the ghastly alternative of our country going up in flames.

HANNA: Some of the anger and resentment may not have gone away. South Africa is in many ways a country still divided. But perhaps most importantly, it is a democracy at peace.

On the surface, so, too is Romania. But there are many who believe an unaddressed anger is still burning at the soul of what's attempting to be a democratic society, and that those killed a decade ago, will never lie in peace until someone is held accountable for their deaths.

Mike Hanna, CNN, Bucharest, Romania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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