from Green Left Weekly #233 5/29/96
The murder and conspiracy trial of apartheid-era defence minister Magnus Malan and other top military officers in the Durban Supreme Court has heard evidence that the vicious terror campaigns conducted by the "third force'' against the anti-apartheid movement and neighbouring states were approved and supported from the highest levels of the apartheid state.
Malan - defence minister 1980-91 - and others are charged with ordering the murder by an Inkatha hit squad of 13 members of a church congregation in the KwaZulu/Natal village of KwaMakutha in 1987. Others charged include former South African Defence Force chief General Jannie Geldenhuys, former army head General Kat Liebenberg, former navy head Admiral Dries Putter and former Military Intelligence director General Tienie Groenewald.
The decision to establish the hit squads was made by the shadowy State Security Council. The highest political and military officials sat on the SSC, including National Party leader F.W. de Klerk and then foreign minister, now mines minister, Pik Botha. Western Cape Premier Hernus Kriel was also a member of the SSC.
It is inconceivable that de Klerk, Botha, Kriel and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi were unaware that the hit squads carried out the 1987 murders and other operations discussed and approved by the SSC.
SSC minutes dated February 3, 1986, reveal that both de Klerk and Botha were present when Operation Marion - the code name for the SSC's clandestine project to boost Inkatha militarily as a counter to the ANC - was discussed. The minutes state that Operation Marion could also be extended to other "homelands'': "it must be accepted that if the Republic of South Africa's special support for KwaZulu is successful, it will open the way for similar projects in other national states (including the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei)''.
Former SADF soldier Johan Pieter Opperman, who was based at an SADF base in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, testified that Inkatha fighters were trained by the SADF to "fuck up the ANC''. He detailed how a Staff Sergeant Andre Cloete took hit squad members through "dry runs'' of the KwaMakutha massacre.
He added that a "cell system'' was established among the hit squad members in which "two or three members would do an operation without other members knowing''. This ensured that if the cell was exposed the whole hit squad's existence would not be endangered and the SSC would be able to maintain "deniability''.
Opperman insisted that the authorisation for the KwaMakutha attack was given by Military Intelligence Brigadier Cornelius van Niekerk, one of Malan's co-accused and a member of the SSC subcommittee overseeing Operation Marion. Opperman admitted that he supplied the weapons for the attack and secured a base to house the squad.
Opperman testified that after the deaths of people who were not the intended targets, van Niekerk opposed further offensive actions, describing them as "halsmisdryf'' (hanging crimes). This was reversed after a "strongly worded signal'' from the Defence Ministry in August 1988 instructed Military Intelligence "to make sure Operation Marion [is] carried out the way it was supposed to be''.
Defence lawyers argued that the documents at no stage state that the "offensive'' paramilitary unit provided to Inkatha would be used to attack ANC members. However, Brigadier Willem van Deventer, head of counter-intelligence for the military, told the court that the word "offensive'' meant attack.
A document before the court went further. Summarising a meeting in 1989 with Inkatha leader Buthelezi, van Niekerk wrote: "The chief minister ... hinted that 'offensive actions' were still a requirement, meaning the use of 'hit squads'''.
Under cross-examination, Opperman also shed light on Pretoria's support for RENAMO contras in Mozambique and how South Africa's support for Inkatha hit squads was modelled on earlier operations to overthrow the left-wing governments of Mozambique and Angola. Opperman revealed that South Africa regularly flouted the 1984 Nkomati non-aggression accord and that he was personally involved in secretly arming and transporting RENAMO guerillas. All these operations were approved by the SSC.
Documents seized by investigators show that the SADF special forces unit that ran RENAMO operations after the Nkomati Accord was signed, the Directorate of Special Tasks (DST), was the same unit assigned by the SSC to set up Operation Marion. Three of the accused - van Niekerk, Brigadier John More and Colonel Cornelius van Tonder - were directly involved in coordinating support for RENAMO.
The DST was also in charge of training Angolan UNITA rebels in northern Namibia. Opperman was commander of seven UNITA bases in the Caprivi Strip before being transferred to the base set up in the same area for Inkatha's paramilitary squads.
Other documents directly link Pik Botha and de Klerk to violent raids into Lesotho. Minutes of the SSC dated December 20, 1985, authorise three ministers - including Botha and Malan - to use "violence across the border'' to end the Lesotho government's support for the ANC. De Klerk was present at the meeting.
Soon after, nine people were killed in a commando raid on Maseru, Lesotho's capital. The South African police and SADF denied responsibility. The obscure Lesotho National Liberation Army (LNLA) issued a statement saying it carried out the attacks.
Earlier evidence showed that SADF special forces ran a base in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains near the Lesotho border, where the LNLA "guerillas'' were trained and armed. According to Johan Opperman, AK-47 assault rifles used by the Inkatha hit squad during the KwaMakutha massacre were obtained from this base.
Three weeks after the Lesotho raid, the South African government imposed a blockade on all goods from Lesotho, and its government was toppled in a coup led by officers in the Lesotho army. The blockade was lifted and the new military government expelled ANC activists to Zambia.
The South African National Defence Force is spending millions of rands in public money to defend Malan and his cohorts in court. A team of 18 lawyers rattled up bills of at least R1.8 million (A$600,000) in the trial's first 12 days. Another legal team has been employed by the South African Police Service to defend former security policeman Colonel Louis Botha.
The SANDF is also footing the bill to fly the accused generals and their lawyers between Pretoria and Durban for each court sitting. While in Durban, the accused are housed in luxury four-bedroom apartments at an army-owned resort on the Natal coast.
National Association of Democratic Lawyers spokesperson Krish Govender told the South African Weekly Mail and Guardian that the generals' defence bill being paid by the state was "a travesty of justice and one of the most painful consequences of the negotiated process where the villains of the apartheid state struck a deal with those who carried the flag for justice''.
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