Pretoria Leaders Face Published Allegations
After damaging disclosures of government involvement in a covert war to destroy the African National Congress, the Cabinet meets to assess losses
JOHANNESBURG — SOUTH Africa's beleaguered Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok appeared close to resigning yesterday as President Frederik de Klerk was plunged into his deepest crisis yet over disclosures that the government funded political rivals of the African National Congress."My standpoint is that if I am an obstacle on the road to negotiations and the future of this country, I will reconsider my position," Mr. Vlok said on state-run television Sunday night, on the eve of a two-day Cabinet working session at a secret venue. "I am reconsidering my position, and I will discuss it with the state president [De Klerk]," Vlok said in a television debate with Anton Harber, editor of anti-apartheid newspaper The Weekly Mail, which published the disclosures jointly on Friday with The Guardian of London.
Crucial Cabinet meeting The Cabinet working session, one of a series that are held four times a year, precedes a full Cabinet meeting in Pretoria tomorrow, that is being billed as the most crucial of Mr. De Klerk's 22-month term as president. "De Klerk's credibility is on the line," says a Western diplomat. "If he gets this one wrong, the government could rapidly lose control of the negotiating process." In a separate television interview, Inaktha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi stuck to his insistence that neither he, nor his Inkatha colleagues, were aware that the government had funded two political meetings of Inkatha. In direct contradiction, Vlok said senior Inkatha officials had reported back to the police about the money and how it had been spent. When asked about the contradiction he told Mr. Harber: "You had better ask the chief." Vlok also said he had no reason to disbelieve the statement by a senior police officer, Maj. Louis Botha, that Chief Buthelezi had thanked him for the money but added that there may have been a misunderstanding. Buthelezi denied that he thanked anyone for the money despite a leaked police memorandum which states that he did. Despite the serious damage to Buthelezi's credibility, he was unanimously reelected leader of Inkatha at the organization's annual conference last weekend. In the interview, Vlok admitted about $600,000 had been channeled to the United Workers Union of South Africa (UWUSA), Inkatha's trade union wing, in addition to the $90,000 given to Inkatha for two political rallies. Vlok repeated his earlier claim that the funding of the rallies was part of a government campaign to combat sanctions. "I admit that there was an advantage for Inkatha, which was not yet a political party, but the main aim ... was to fight sanctions," he said. Following an Inkatha rally in Durban on March 23 last year, which drew only 15,000 supporters, a seven-day war erupted in the hills around Pietermaritzburg in Natal province. At least 160 people were killed and more than 2,500 homes were destroyed. About 20,000 people were left homeless. Most of those affected were ANC supporters. "The fact is that there has been a consistent onslaught against the ANC," says Democratic Party legislator Pierre Cronje, who has closely monitored the political violence in Natal.
Other groups funded In a Monitor interview, liberal Democratic Party legislator Jacobus Jordaan claimed Inkatha was one of several political organizations opposed to the ANC that the government had funded. He said he had information that a conservative black group, known as the Federal Independent Democratic Alliance, had been funded by military intelligence and that government funds had also reached the National Forum, another black group opposed to the ANC. Mr. Jordaan said he also had information that money had been channeled to several "cultural organizations" in the six semi-autonomous tribal homelands for political purposes. Until Inkatha became a political party last year it was classified as a "cultural movement."
Massacre allegations De Klerk also will have to deal with more serious allegations that a special defense force unit carried out a massacre of 26 civilians on a train in Soweto last September. Government critics say the violence was part of a covert war to destroy the ANC and boost its rivals beneath the cloak of ethnic violence between the Zulus, who primarily support the Inkatha Freedom Party, and the Xhosas, who mainly back the ANC. On Friday, the government appointed a senior police officer to investigate claims made by former military operative Sgt. Felix Isaias Ndimene, in an article published simultaneously on Friday in the anti-apartheid weekly, New Nation and The Independent of London. New Nation said it had the names of the core group of attackers in the Soweto train massacre, and it claimed that they were all members of a notorious special unit of the South African Defense Force (SADF), 5 Reconnaissance Regiment (5 Recce), based at Phalaborwa. The base, which is in the northern Transvaal, has been used in the past to assist the Renamo rebels in Mozambique. Sergeant Ndimene said he had been kidnapped by the SADF in a raid in Mozambique in 1982 and forced to join the SADF. He said most of the operatives in the special forces were Mozambicans, Angolans, and Namibians. Sergeant Ndimene, who has left the country for fear of his safety, said that, following the legalization of the ANC last February, officers of the special forces had said that the war against the ANC and its allies would continue. "We were told that we would now have to fight a different kind of war," Ndimene told New Nation. Defense Minister Magnus Malan, who has repeatedly dismissed claims of SADF involvement in a "third force," has remained silent since the allegations were published, but a SADF spokesman dismissed the claims as part of a campaign to discredit the military.