PRESIDENT Frederik de Klerk is poised to authorize an in-depth investigation of his security forces and their role in political violence as a prelude to negotiating an interim government with the African National Congress (ANC), according to Western diplomats.
"This is one way for De Klerk to get himself off the hook regarding the security forces," says Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a political mediator who heads a key forum for promoting powersharing between Johannesburg and Soweto local councils.
United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed in a report on South Africa to the Security Council published over the weekend that Judge Richard Goldstone, who heads an independent commission probing political violence, should conduct a "thorough investigation" of the security forces and political armies.
"Unless the South African Defense Force [SADF] and the South African Police [SAP] are fully investigated by a neutral and reliable body, they will have no prospect of receiving the trust, confidence, and cooperation of the South African public," Judge Goldstone said in a statement following publication of the UN report.
Judge Goldstone immediately endorsed the secretary-general's report and called for a general amnesty to enable him to conduct a thorough investigation into the security forces, the military wings of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and the KwaZulu police, which is widely regarded as the military arm of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The Monitor reported Friday that the ANC and government have been conducting talks on the terms of a general amnesty over the past two weeks that would extend immunity from prosecution to members of the security forces and cadres of the liberation movements who acted under political orders.
But some human rights lawyers argue that it would not bode well for the post-apartheid South Africa if political assassinations and murder were excused.
The UN report, based on recommendations by UN special envoy Cyrus Vance following a 10-day visit to South Africa, has increased the pressure on both the Pretoria government and the ANC to return to the negotiating table and abide by the UN plan.
"Having welcomed the intervention of the international community through the UN both De Klerk and [ANC President Nelson] Mandela have little option but to accept its recommendations," a Western diplomat says.
Mr. Mandela told a political rally in the nominally independent homeland of Ciskei over the weekend that he and De Klerk had resumed telephone contact after a long break in communication.
The UN report calls on the parties to return to the negotiating table and outlines a plan to end political violence. It proposes the stationing of 30 UN observers to bolster the National Peace Accord, a neglected multiparty agreement to end violence, and calls for increased powers of investigation for the Goldstone Commission.
The UN proposes reviving the stalled interracial negotiating forum - the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), and wants an "eminent person" - not necessarily a foreigner - to provide the "impetus and cohesion" that CODESA needs to fulfill its role. It also calls for the creation of a deadlock-breaking mechanism.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the UN report as "constructive."
"But there is no doubt that we are going to see resistance from the defense force just as we saw resistance from the police to the strong criticism of them contained in the British report on the Boipatong massacre on June 17," the official said.
Mounting tensions within the security forces appeared last week during the Goldstone Commission hearing in Vereeniging on the Boipatong massacre (in which 42 people were killed) when the judge called on the SADF legal representative to hand over a secret defense force file.
The SADF lawyer initially refused to hand over the file and only did so after a row with Judge Goldstone, who warned him that he could be held in contempt of the commission if he refused.
ANC International Director Thabo Mbeki told the Sunday Times of Johannesburg yesterday that the question of a general amnesty would be better handled by an interim government rather than by one of the parties to negotiations that was anxious to pardon its agents for crimes committed in pursuit of a political cause.
Dr. Slabbert said that a general amnesty was a vital prerequisite for an interim government.
"Unless the security forces are sanitized an interim government won't be able to govern," the political mediator says.