THE theft of ammunition and guns from a military armory by a white right-wing group April 14 has raised doubts about the loyalty of some African defense and security-force personnel and heightened fears that extreme Afrikaners are gearing up for an armed rebellion. The mastermind behind the break-in at Pretoria's Air Force armory is alleged to be Piet Rudolph, the deputy leader of the ultra-right-wing Boerestaat Party. Mr. Rudolph, a former policeman and ex-Pretoria city councilor, reportedly phoned the Pretoria News last week and said: ``I have now crossed the Rubicon. The Boer now have a chance to arm themselves.'' Three of his alleged accomplices in the theft are servicemen in the South African defense force.
On Tuesday, Adriaan Vlok, South Africa's law and order minister, announced a proposed ban preventing policeman from being a member of any political party.
The Conservative Party announced Wednesday that it would suspend the membership of anyone now serving in the police force.
Members of the security and police forces are already banned from being members of the Afrikaner Weerstand-Beweging (AWB) and other organizations.
The Boerestaat Party works closely with the AWB, led by the neofascist Eugene Terre Blanche. Mr. Terre Blanche claims that ``Boer commandos'' have formed and would act against anyone who ``tried with violence to remove the freedom of the volk.''
Robert van Tonder, leader of the Boerestaat Party, freely tells reporters that commandos are being organized on a regional basis.
Contacted earlier this week, experts on right-wing organizations say that while the actual numbers in such groups might be small, it would be wrong to underestimate their potential to use violence to wreck negotiations.
``The events of last week prove ... that you cannot ignore the white right wing and their determination for gaining power or sustaining a guerrilla campaign,'' says Richard Humphries, a researcher at the Center for Policy Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Forthcoming negotiations aim at a new constitution in which blacks will be represented in national elections. The first stage of those negotiations begins next Wednesday with a historic meeting between executive members of the recently unbanned African National Congress (ANC) and a government negotiating team led by President Frederik de Klerk.
These are the so-called ``talks about talks,'' which will set conditions for actual negotiations.
Mr. De Klerk warned the police hierarchy earlier this year against pursuing a political agenda. Academic experts say that many members of white right-wing groups are ex-military personnel or are now serving in the defense or police forces.
A Law and Order Ministry spokesman says: ``We can't afford a biased police force. From a police and law and order point of view, we are very concerned about [the theft of] the weapons and the buildup of right-wing emotions, just as we are concerned about the situation in Natal.''
De Klerk has recently criticized Andries Treurnicht, the Conservative Party leader, for publishing a secret security document that claimed the ANC was planning to assassinate right-wing leaders. De Klerk said the document was possibly fabricated in an attempt to create instability.
Experts on white right-wing parties suspect that the timing of the theft so soon before the meeting was not coincidental.
``From all accounts, three-quarters of the police in the Transvaal [Province] are supporters of the far-right wing and two-thirds nationally,'' says Mark Phillips, a security expert at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Robert Evans of the University of Natal says the theft from the air base in Pretoria was a symbolic gesture aimed at signaling that the rebellion was about to begin, rather than a desperate bid to gain arms. The theft included at least 80 guns of various kinds.
``They feel they have been sold down the river by the National Party government and the break-in was merely a demonstration of power. ... It was a way of telling their supporters they are ready to start an armed rebellion,'' Mr. Evans says.