Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

South African Military Is Said To Spark Unrest

Former officer says Defense Force trained black mercenaries to undercut ANC prospects

THE South African Defense Force has deliberately provoked black township violence as part of a strategy to build a political alliance that could defeat the African National Congress and keep President Frederik de Klerk in power after apartheid is dismantled, a former SADF officer claims. Nico Basson - a communications expert who quit the SADF in 1986 but served as a part-time military propaganda agent in Namibia in 1989 - told the Monitor in an interview that key figures in the Pretoria government were directing a clandestine effort to ensure the ANC's demise as the majority party.

He said that in February 1990 the SADF began training black mercenaries in remote northern parts of the country to fan ethnic conflict between the Zulus and Xhosas to weaken the ANC and bolster Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.

About these ads

The mercenaries were sent into urban townships on "hit-and-run" raids to provoke violence between residents and the Zulu-dominated men's-only hostels, and then to quickly withdraw to make the conflict appear spontaneous.

"The strategy is to break the ANC's hold on the black community by creating an ethnic split between Zulu and Xhosa," Mr. Basson said.

Basson said he became disillusioned with SADF covert strategies in July 1989. But the turning point came when South West Africa Peoples' Organization (SWAPO) activist Anton Lubowski, with whom he had been working to uncover the full extent of the military strategy, was assassinated in September 1989.

Basson said he exposed the miltiary's covert actions in Namibia and South Africa to end the misuse of state funds for ruling-party propaganda purposes and to expose unethical practices within the security establishment.

The SADF denies Basson's claims, describing them as "ridiculous."

"He is bandying about unsubstantiated claims for reasons of his own," says Brig. A. H. Louw, director of public relations for the SADF.

But the SADF has taken a different line with Basson's claims of involvement in "Operation Agree," a counterpropaganda campaign in neighboring Namibia aimed at preventing SWAPO, the main nationalist guerrilla group, from winning the 1989 independence elections.

About these ads

The campaign involved boosting the Pretoria-backed Democratic Turnhalle Alliance and its allies through financial and moral support and using special military units to intimidate the political opposition.

Basson's disclosures about this campaign - which have been referred to the attorney general for prosecution - have been described by the SADF as "top secret" and a contravention of the Protection for Information Act and the Defense Act.

In Namibia's November 1989 ballot, SWAPO failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to draft the new constitution alone, winning 54 percent of the vote rather than the predicted 70-80 percent, forcing it to negotiate with the Alliance.

Basson says Namibia was a testing ground for the program being pursued in South Africa.

The SADF, he says, has supplied trained operatives, mainly rural Zulus and former Renamo guerrillas from Mozambique, with an array of arms - such as AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and Soviet-made limpet mines - to carry out destabilization of black areas.

He says the training of the black mercenaries was directed by top figures, including Defense Chief Gen. Kat Liebenberg and Defense Minister Gen. Magnus Malan. As in Namibia, the Department for Foreign Affairs cooperated fully, Basson says.

Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha described as "nonsense" Basson's claims that his department was involved in any covert propaganda campaign. Mr. De Klerk's office referred the Monitor to the Defense Ministry statement. Inkatha's Chief Buthelezi has dismissed Basson's claims as part of an ongoing campaign to discredit the organization.

The ANC's Gill Marcus describes Basson's claims as "very serious" and challenged General Malan to engage in a public debate on the claims. Malan was found to have lied to Parliament last year about his knowledge of the Civilian Cooperation Bureau, which directed the assassination and discrediting of key anti-apartheid activists.

This has fueled the suspicion that the clandestine program under Malan's control serves De Klerk's political objectives of building an anti-ANC alliance.

Basson says that, as well as undermining the ANC, the violence, which has claimed nearly 2,000 lives in the past year, was intended to lay the groundwork for a "centrist" alliance, to be known as the Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA), with the National Party at its core. Once the time came for forming the alliance, the violence would suddenly be "turned off," ostensibly as a result of government peace initiatives, and the CDA would be projected as the only long-term formula for peace and stability.

His allegations coincide with recent ruling National Party and Inkatha talks, which laid the groundwork for a future political alliance, and a recent power struggle within the liberal Democratic Party about whether it should join a National Party-led alliance. The government has also been cultivating closer links with key black religious groups - such as the 4 million strong Zion Christian Church - as potential partners in its CDA, a clear counter to the alliance between the ANC, the South African Commu n

ist Party, and other anti-apartheid groups.

Last month Democratic Party legislator Jan van Eck claimed in Parliament that a senior group within the ruling party was trying to undermine De Klerk's reforms by reasserting a military role in building an anti-ANC alliance.

"It appears that De Klerk is moving away from his original intentions and is becoming involved in an alternative strategy of building an alliance against the ANC and its allies," Mr. Van Eck said.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.