The South African amnesty scheme for politically motivated offenders is the result of a political deal struck in 1993 between the chief negotiating parties during the transition to democracy in South Africa. Near the completion of the multi-party talks, the African National Congress (ANC) and the last apartheid government included a provision for amnesty to ‘be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives and committed in the course of the conflicts of the past’ in an epilogue to the interim Constitution which governed the democratic transition. This provision instructed the future South African parliament to ‘adopt a law … 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’. It also envisaged a firm cut-off date with regard to the time of commission of the deeds whose perpetrators could profit from the amnesty. Originally that date was to be after 8 October 1990 – the cut-off date of previous indemnity arrangements which had accompanied the negotiations process – and before 6 December 1993. It was later moved forward to 10 May 1994, the day on which Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first South African president elected by universal suffrage.
While the interim Constitution cleared the path for elections and prepared the way for a democratic South Africa, the sweeping amnesty promise sat heavily on the minds and consciences of many elected representatives in the new South African parliament.