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Date: Tue, 5 Nov 96 10:48:24 CST
Resent-From: rich%pencil@VM.MARIST.EDU (Rich Winkel)
From: (Brian Hauk)
Subject: S. African Truth Commission Exposes Apartheid Rulers
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC

S.African Truth Commission Exposes Apartheid Rulers

By Greg Rosenberg, from the Militant, Vol.60, no.40
November 11, 1996

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Johan van der Merwe, former commissioner of the apartheid police force, publicly implicated former South African president Pieter W. Botha and other Cabinet officials in two of the most high-profile acts of terror committed by the white regime in the 1980s. Van der Merwe's October 21 testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission marked another crack in the wall of silence put up by leaders and functionaries of the former apartheid regime.

Van der Merwe told the commission that he had ordered the 1988 bombing of Khotso House in downtown Johannesburg, which housed the South African Council of Churches. He also said he had devised a plan to distribute booby-trapped hand grenades to student anti-apartheid fighters in 1985. Eight youth were killed.

Then-Law and Order minister Adriaan Vlok told van der Merwe that Botha himself ordered the church headquarters destroyed. Vlok, said van der Merwe, had instructed that Khotso House was to be damaged by explosives "to such an extent that it could no longer be utilized."

On October 30, a judge sentenced Eugene de Kock, former commander of the notorious Vlakplaas police murder squad, to two life terms plus additional jail sentences totaling more than 200 years. He was convicted on 89 charges, including 6 for murder. It was the revelations presented by de Kock that ultimately led to van der Merwe's confession. Catherine Mlangeni, the mother of Bheki Mlangeni, remarked at the sentencing that "I feel a bit better...I know he will stay in jail forever." De Kock had assassinated Mlangeni, an anti-apartheid lawyer, with a set of earphones packed with explosives.

The Truth Commission was established by the African National Congress-led government to bring to light the wanton murder and brutality organized by the apartheid state. Anti-apartheid fighters who carried out sabotage and other attacks against the regime are also to testify. Offering the possibility of amnesty to those who confess their crimes, the commission is vested with subpoena powers. Public hearings conducted by the commission often assume the character of mass meetings, with hundreds or thousands of working people cramming into rooms to cheer on the testimony of the regime's victims and demanding that the truth be told.

Continuing mass pressure, along with criminal trials and issuing of subpoenas, is taking its toll on some former cops and police generals. A growing number are starting to spill the beans and in the process implicating central leaders of the former National Party government. Apartheid military figures, however, continue to cover up their entire history.

Cop testifies `kicking and squealing'

The former chief cop's testimony was not exactly voluntary. Van der Merwe received word that 5 of his subordinates planned to implicate him in some of the 40 murders they were planning to confess to the Truth Commission. Van der Merwe applied for amnesty in relation to these two acts, but said he would reserve judgment on any further admissions depending on what came out in public.

"Van der Merwe and the other police witnesses have been forced kicking and squealing to the commission by the threat of prosecution, and there is good chance that their testimony will spark a chain reaction which will envelop a widening circle of policemen and state officials," said an editorial in the October 23 Johannesburg Business Day. The financial daily noted that the testimony marked "a serious problem for the NP (National Party), which has accepted executive responsibility only for pre-emptive and `hot pursuit' attacks in neighbouring states and continues to insist that the domestic crimes...were those of maverick agents who exceeded their brief."

The testimony of their former chief cop indeed brought protest from the National Party. "An aspect that is cause for increasing concern is the one-sided emphasis being placed by concentrating only on the deeds of the previous government and no attention being given to the deeds of the ANC during this period," said NP chief spokesperson Fanus Schoeman.

Botha and current NP leader Frederik W. de Klerk, meanwhile, have remained totally silent on the revelations.

Truth Commission vice-chairperson Alex Boraine said the body would try to get Botha to testify, but that "if there is no positive response we have the powers of subpoena and will use them."

"Gen. van der Merwe's testimony...vindicates the ANC's view that covert operations against anti-apartheid activists was not the work of maverick elements within the ranks of former security forces but were sanctioned at the highest echelons of the apartheid state," said a statement from the ANC Department of Information and Publicity.

`Permanently neutralized'

The 5 cops and police officials who later named van der Merwe as the source of their orders were implicated during the criminal trial of de Kock. Three already face a variety of criminal charges, but their trials have been postponed to 1997. In the statement opening their amnesty plea, the cops derided an earlier whitewash of apartheid rule presented by de Klerk to the commission. "We seriously doubt the statement made by Mr. F.W. de Klerk," they said.

The cops are implicated, among other things, in the murder of 3 Port Elizabeth anti-apartheid fighters known as the Pebco Three, and 2 groups of young fighters from Mamelodi township outside Pretoria, who were lured to their deaths on promises that they were being taken out of the country for ANC military training.

Brig. Jack Cronje, who presented much of the testimony for the 5 cops, explained that "it was necessary to eliminate [ANC and other] terrorists and activists because if they were not eliminated they would not be permanently neutralized. The legal system was not equipped to deal with these situations. It was of a proactive nature."

In related news, Truth Commission chairman Desmond Tutu has asked the government to extend the amnesty cut-off date from December 1993 to May 10, 1994 when South African president Nelson Mandela was inaugurated. The date set means no one can apply for amnesty for acts committed after that time. Mandela said he opposed any such move.

Of the 2,000 amnesty applications pending, so far only three have been granted.

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