South Africa's Right Wing Circles Its Wagons
Government, ANC join forces to curb influence of new right-wing coalition, which may politicize security forces
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — THE ruling National Party and the African National Congress (ANC) have moved swiftly to neutralize a new right-wing initiative that is threatening to divide and politicize the security forces and obstruct South Africa's stalled transition to democracy.
The Volksfront (People's Front), as the new umbrella group is known, has vowed to thwart planned multiparty control of the security forces in the run-up to the country's first multiparty elections. It seeks self-determination for the white Afri- kaner minority, and has stated it will use all means at its disposal.
The emergence of former South African Defense Force chief Constand Viljoen - aided by a committee of former Army and police generals - as the spokesman of the front, has given the right wing a new authority and raised a threat of divided loyalties within the security forces.
The formation of the Volksfront came just hours before the multiparty negotiating forum decided on May 7 to set a date before June 3 for the country's first democratic elections, which, the negotiators agreed, should be held not later than the end of April 1994.
The issue of multiparty control of the security forces had become one of the major obstructions in the negotiating process.
President Frederik de Klerk responded to the new right-wing challenge Saturday, saying his government would use the full might of the state to ensure the swift installation of a non-racial government of national unity and to prevent extremists from plunging the country into a "Bosnian-like civil war."
"Any attempts to undermine the integrity of the security forces or to subvert their loyalty to the state are viewed in an extremely serious light," he said, directing his statement at the Volksfront's implied bid to recruit the security forces to its cause.
The ANC, which has strongly condemned the objectives of the new right-wing front, took two surprise steps to ease the new threat to Mr. De Klerk.
ANC officials backed down from their long-standing insistence that the security forces be placed under multiparty control during the run-up to the country's first democratic ballot. They explained the switch by saying they were not prepared to take joint responsibility for any excessive use of force by the security forces in the run-up to the elections.
The ANC's National Working Committee, a kind of inner cabinet, also decided over the weekend to hold a three-day bush summit this week to discuss the right-wing developments and, particularly, internal measures to prevent ANC members from fueling right-wing resistance.
In the wake of the assassination of South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Chris Hani, the president of the ANC Youth League, Peter Mokaba, stirred a national controversy by chanting at an ANC rally the slogan: "Kill a Boer, kill a farmer."
The slogan has sparked a wave of right-wing anger around the country, and was quoted by almost every speaker at a May 6 public meeting of 7,000 angry white farmers in the Afrikaner university town of Potchefstroom about 120 miles southwest of here.
Despite demands from government and right-wing groups that the ANC discipline Mr. Mokaba for his remarks, Mokaba has defended his utterances and has not faced any disciplinary measures.
ANC negotiator and Communist Party Chairman Joe Slovo said May 9 he was encouraged by De Klerk's weekend warnings. In an interview yesterday with the financial daily Business Day, Mr. Slovo said that the long-term aim of the retired generals behind the new right-wing mobilization effort could be a coup. But he doubted whether they had a strong enough base to succeed in their goal.
The Afrikaans-language daily, Beeld, reported yesterday that the ANC had agreed in talks with senior SADF generals recently that its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) - which comprises an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 soldiers - would be incorporated into the SADF before an election.
Democratic Party director James Selfe, who is regarded as an authority on the SADF, says that concerns of a coup were exaggerated and that there were both positive and negative aspects to the emergence of General Viljoen's party.
"On the one hand the right wing is looking for a leader who can transcend the divisions in their own ranks," Mr. Selfe says. "This would make it easier to deal with the right. What is worrying is that the new initiative has a kind of paramilitary bent to it."
The Volksfront seeks to unite the major right-wing parties and fill the vacuum left by the death three weeks ago of Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht.
Wim Booyse, a political risk analyst, says the new front could marginalize extremist leaders like Eugene Terre Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, and curb the rapid growth of paramilitary organizations in the wake of Treurnicht's death.
He says that if the front succeeds in unifying the right wing, it could reverse the dangerous fragmentation of the right into smaller groups more likely to engage in violence and terrorism.
Viljoen insists that the group is not "militarily oriented" and that he has neither political ambitions nor party-political affiliations.
But the stature and authority which he derives from his term as SADF chief until 1985 has sounded alarm bells in government circles.
The right-wing groups - which are deeply divided on the tactics of resisting black majority rule - have yet to agree on their political goals and the means of resistance they will use to achieve their vague political demand for self-determination.
Some favor the continuation of apartheid, others want a limited white homeland, and a third group is prepared to settle for special guarantees and decentralized powers in a federal system.