THE reluctance of the South African Defense Force to submit to multiparty control under a multiracial interim government could delay negotiations in South Africa, military analysts say.
Though dismissing recent rumors of the possibility of a military coup, these analysts concede there is a widening communication and credibility gap between President Frederik de Klerk's government and military leaders.
"The military is completely unprepared for joint control or anything approaching that," says a former Army officer now in the private sector.
"There is a significant group of generals who do not believe the current political initiative is going to work [and] are quite simply not part of the process," the former Army officer adds.
This credibility gap could undermine efforts to restructure the South African Defense Force (SADF), says the former SADF officer.
In an unusual move last week, Defense Minister Roelf Meyer joined the official government spokesman at the weekly news briefing of the interracial negotiating forum debating South Africa's future political structure - the Convention for a Democratic South Africa - to sound a warning about future control of the military.
"We will not accept any form of unconstitutional control over the security forces," Mr. Meyer told a Feb. 26 news conference. He added that there still appeared to be "unconstitutional structures" in the African National Congress's proposals for an interim government.
A government official, speaking anonymously, said Meyer's warning was a veiled message for the African National Congress that there could be no deal on an interim government until the ANC handed in weapons and abandoned "armed struggle."
The ANC on Feb. 24 offered detailed proposals for a phased transition to majority rule. The first phase involves setting up a multiparty interim government council and four multiparty committees to oversee the security forces, foreign affairs, the budget, and local government.
The authoritative British journal Africa Confidential reported last week that the alienation of senior SADF officers was a threat to the negotiating process. The journal said Meyer, President De Klerk's choice as defense minister last year, has failed to win the confidence of the generals.
De Klerk, who has no power base in the security forces, has drastically curbed the military's influence in the past two years by scrapping a military-led national internal-security system, ordering large military-spending cuts, halving the period of national service, tightening control over covert funds, and privatizing the state armaments wing.
Still, "it seems that these moves have not succeeded in bringing the military under civilian control," a Western diplomat notes.
De Klerk, who in the past has dismissed any suggestion of a military coup, took a more cautious approach when asked about the possibility of a coup at an international news conference last week to announce the date of a referendum for whites on political reform.
"I don't know of any scientific research which has been done with regard to the specific political divisions within the ranks of the military," De Klerk said.
"But I have no reason whatsoever to believe that the military - apart from exercising their normal political right as citizens of the country - will allow political differences to make inroads into their professionalism."
The first sign of serious dissent in the military came in January with a vitriolic attack on Defense Minister Meyer from a recently retired SADF officer, Col. Jan Breytenbach, a soldier who headed the notorious Special Forces.
Colonel Breytenbach accused Meyer, in a letter to the Sunday Times of Johannesburg, of doing irreparable damage to the "honor and pride" of the SADF by going soft on conscientious objectors.
(It was announced earlier this year that conscientious objectors would no longer be prosecuted for failing to respond to call-ups for national service. The announcement caused an uproar, and Meyer later announced that draft-dodgers would still be prosecuted for failing to turn up for military training.)
Tensions between the military and the government have also been aggravated by the government's decision to order a thorough probe of press allegations of an institutional SADF role in training and financing hit squads to foment township violence, undermine negotiations, and weaken a future government.
In testimony Friday before a committee probing SADF ties to the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, M. Z. Khumalo, a former aide to Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, admitted that the SADF had channeled millions of South African rands through the KwaZulu homeland government for the training of 200 Zulu youths.
Other witnesses have told the committee that the youths were used to destabilize black townships and attack members of ANC-aligned groups.
Mr. Khumalo said the youths were used by the KwaZulu police force to protect KwaZulu officials.
He denied that the youths had taken part in the "hit squads." Khumalo said he had dealt with front companies and did not realize that the SADF was the sponsor.