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First Black Likely to Head S. Africa's Military

Apartheid-era general quit April 6 over bogus coup report. Successor may be a former ANC guerrilla leader.

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The chief of South Africa's army has resigned over a murky controversy involving allegations of coup plots, conspiracies, and fabricated intelligence reports.

Gen. Georg Meiring was one of a large number of senior white military officers who remained in power following the demise of the apartheid regime in 1994.

Government sources say he is likely to be replaced by his deputy, Gen. Siphiwe Nyanda, a former commander of the guerrilla wing of the African National Congress (ANC). If appointed, General Nyanda will be the first black chief of the National Defense Forces.

This could represent a cultural sea change in the mainly white high command and a chance to give more blacks leadership roles in the 98,000-strong force.

The fall of General Meiring follows allegations that white intelligence officers fabricated or badly mishandled a report claiming that key supporters and former supporters of the ANC were planning a coup to topple Nelson Mandela's ANC government. Among those named in the report were the president's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and several former ANC guerrilla leaders, including Nyanda.

Military intelligence "sources" leaked news of the report last month after former antiapartheid guerrilla Robert McBride was arrested in Mozambique for attempting to buy weapons. His arrest proved the conspiracy's existence, they claimed. A source close to Mandela says the government is inclined to accept Mr. McBride's explanation that he was investigating gun-running in South Africa. Many ANC members speculate he was set up, possibly to make the coup threat appear real.

Government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe said last week that a special judicial commission had concluded the report of a plot - based solely on the evidence of the man who led McBride to Mozambique - was "flawed" and without basis in fact. There were elements within the security forces bent on destabilizing the country, and the report could be part of the campaign, he said.

Other government sources said the naming of several senior black officers as conspirators suggests the report may have been a crude attempt to maintain the predominantly white complexion of the military command. It is unclear whether other senior officers will be following Meiring out the door.

Announcing his resignation April 6, Meiring said that he had done nothing wrong or sinister in handing the report to Mandela but that he felt obliged to take responsibility for its unauthorized release to the press.


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