This is a story of struggle within the South African government. It goes something like this: Two top officials intimately involved in negotiating a new political dispensation with blacks recently were sacked. They apparently were cozying up to a number of outlawed anti-apartheid organizations - a move the country's military men apparently thought wasn't a great idea.
So they got the axe. Now, a couple of bureaucrats losing their jobs isn't exactly headline-grabbing stuff, but the tale of these two officials provides a rare glimpse into the ongoing battle between hard-line ``securicrats'' and more liberal ``reformers'' that permeates the government here.
The conflict is significant, political analysts say, because it has a direct bearing on the country's political future. They see the securicrats trying to take the nation down an increasingly totalitarian road - a course they say can only lead to further polarization and violence.
That's particularly true in the area of constitutional reform, where President Pieter Botha wants to work out a limited power-sharing accord with the 28 million blacks here who have no vote in national matters. To do so, reformists believe the government must talk with anti-apartheid groups. Securicrats, however, see them as dangerous revolutionary agitators that must be ``neutralized'' - banned and gagged.
But since so many blacks identify with these organizations, analysts see the securicrats' approach as unworkable. Which is why the departure of the two reformist officials is important.
``These were the most innovative guys in constitutional planning,'' maintains Stephen Friedman of the South African Institute of Race Relations. ``It's a real setback to the lobby within the government that thinks the security strategy is a disaster.''
This same battle is being played out over other vital issues such as freeing jailed black leader Nelson Mandela and the recently announced plan to end the Angola and Namibia conflict. Reformers within the foreign ministry seem to be pushing for Mr. Mandela's release and for South African acceptance of the peace accord as a means of enhancing the country's image abroad - thus staving off further sanctions.
While securicrats apparently are going along with efforts to end Angola's 13-year-old civil war and to grant Namibia independence, government insiders say they are balking at springing Mandela, chief of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC).
But it's in the area of black rights that South Africa's military men apparently are most opposed to the likes of Fanie Cloete and Kobus Jordaan, the dismissed officials. (Since the government declines to discuss the issue and the two men weren't available, this account was pieced together from interviews with associates and friends - most of whom requested anonymity).
For starters, the two aren't your run-of-the-mill bureaucrats. Associates describe Mr. Cloete - chief director of constitutional planning - as the best brain in government. Young, highly intellectual, and well-traveled, Cloete was said to be the driving force behind Constitutional Development and Planning Minister Chris Heunis.
Mr. Jordaan, on the other hand, is deeply religious. The director of constitutional support services, Jordaan spend 12 years as a Dutch Reformed Church missionary in Zambia, where he became close friends with President Kenneth Kaunda. One acquaintance describes Jordaan as a radical who always said he felt more comfortable with an anti-apartheid activist than with a white businessman.
At first, the two apparently adhered to the officially ``approved'' list of blacks - most of whom participate in government bodies. Mr. Friedman explains their subsequent dilemma like this: ``It doesn't take long to realize that the people you've been told to talk with don't have much influence. So you go back, tell the bosses this is ridiculous, and start talking to the people who do matter.''
Which is exactly what they did. An associate says Jordaan met secretly with members of the banned United Democratic Front and with representatives of street committees - radical groups that virtually ruled black townships during the 1984-86 upheaval. He negotiated with the restricted Soweto Civic Association to try to end a two-year-old rent boycott in Soweto township.
And apparently he attempted to arrange a meeting with the ANC. Some accounts say the rendezvous never got off the ground because securicrats got wind of it. Others have it the ANC rebuffed Jordaan when he arrived in Lusaka, Zambia, the organization's headquarters.
Whatever the actual details, Jordaan has said he did not make contact with the ANC. Nonetheless, that attempt and the other secret meetings illustrate the policy he and Cloete pursued. While anti-apartheid groups are committed to nonparticipation and the government to nonnegotiation, an associate explains, Cloete and Jordaan believe the groups should participate and the government negotiate.
And that, Friedman maintains, is what got them into trouble. ``The securicrats' big bug right now is that nothing should be done to give credibility to the extra-parliamentary groups because they're revolutionary.''
A government insider says that security officials had been after the two for more than a year and that the cost of protecting them finally became too high for Mr. Heunis, the constitutional development and planning minister. Still, Friedman maintains, this isn't the end of the story.
``There are reform-minded people like Cloete and Jordaan left in that ministry,'' he says. ``And there is no one who, when put into their positions, won't have the same experiences and come to the same conclusions.''