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De Klerk Faces Test of Presidency

South African leader must restore government's credibility over Inkatha funding scandal

By John BattersbyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 29, 1991


THE South African funding scandal has severely damaged the credibility of the De Klerk government and undermined its prospects of retaining political control during the transition to a new constitution."The level of trust in the government is at such a low pitch that we must have a joint mechanism for overseeing the transition process and establishing control of the security forces," said Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The disclosures that the government secretly funded the Inkatha Freedom Party after President Frederik de Klerk had legalized the African National Congress (ANC) - and that it gave at least $40 million to rivals of the liberation movement in Namibian independence elections in 1989 - have bolstered the ANC's call for an interim government. "It is now clear that the government cannot manage the transition on its own," says liberal Democratic Party legislator Jacobus Jordaan. "Government has all the power and legality it wants, but it lacks legitimacy now more than ever."

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Western mood hardens The scandal has hardened the mood toward South Africa in Western capitals and is likely to delay lifting of sanctions by the European Community and Japan. Coming so soon after President Bush lifted some sanctions, the scandal severely embarrassed the United States administration and it canceled a visit by a government minister to Washington last week. US officials have hinted that lifting remaining sanctions - such as on air links and supporting Pretoria's requests for International Monetary Fund loans - will be put on hold pending Mr. De Klerk's response to the scandal. De Klerk is expected to announce an end to the secret funding of political parties and tighter controls on remaining secret projects. But the Cabinet appears to have closed ranks, and it is unlikely that any ministers will be fired at this stage. De Klerk faces the toughest test of his presidency tomorrow when he responds publicly to the disclosures. If he fails to restore his personal credibility and that of his government the negotiating process could collapse. Hard-liners, like Defense Minister Magnus Malan, could gain the upper hand if civil unrest ensued. The ANC has stopped short of calling for De Klerk's resignation despite the unrepentant tone of the key players in the scandal - Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok, Defense Minister Magnus Malan, and Foreign Minister Roelof "Pik" Botha. "There can be no continuation of the process of negotiation without the establishment of an interim government," said ANC Working Committee member Patrick "Terror" Lekota. But the ANC's Executive Committee, which meets in an emergency session this week, is more radical than the Working Committee and could opt for halting talks if De Klerk does not go far enough in checking the security forces when he responds tomorrow.