Homeland leader faces torture probe

The chief minister and prospective president of KwaNdebele, George Mahlangu, may be charged with abducting and torturing youths.

The Transvaal attorney general, Don Brunette, told Weekly Mail he was in possession of a docket containing allegations that Mahlangu, together with former KwaNdebele interior minister, Piet Ntuli, kidnapped and assaulted youths during the height of the rebellion against independence last year. “We haven’t yet made a decision on whether or not to prosecute,” Brunette said. “We were supposed to meet the investigating officer on May 11 but he never came.”

Brunette confirmed that he had received another docket on a police investigation into allegations of murder against Mahlangu and Ntuli. The investigation focused on the alleged role of Mahlangu and Ntuli in the death of a youth, one of a trio who were allegedly attacked by Mahlangu and Ntuli. He is said to have died from bullet wounds.

But Brunette said, he had decided not to press ahead with charges because of conflicting evidence. One youth said the fatal shots were fired by Ntuli. Another said the shots were fired by a man in a balaclava, claiming to have identified the voice of the balaclava-clad man as that of Mahlangu. Brunette labelled the evidence against Mahlangu and Ntuli “unconvincing”. Mahlangu was elected chief minister on November 27 last year. Ntuli, a founder of the feared pro-independence Mbokodo vigilante movement, was killed on July 29 when a bomb exploded in a car which he was driving.

Weekly Mail was told by a Pretoria official of the existence of a second murder docket containing allegations against Mahlangu and Ntuli. The former inferior minister was the “prime accused”. According to a summary of the docket given to Weekly Mail by the Pretoria official, the two men are alleged to have driven in a car from which shots were fired at youths. Eight youths are said to have been killed. Brunette could not recall the docket. But he said that after Ntuli’s death four dockets involving charges against him were withdrawn, adding: “Not only Ntuli was involved. There were others as well.”

The second murder docket referred to may have been one of those withdrawn after Ntuli’s death, Brunette said. Recalling that it was a time of high conflict in KwaNdebele between pro- and anti-independence factions and in which allegations and counter-allegations abounded, Brunette said: “We did what we could. But a lot of crime was never brought to the attention of police.” Thirty-eight dockets were referred to his office, Brunette said. “In 18 cases I gave instructions to prosecute. The cases ranged from public violence, arson and assault to malicious damage to property.” Brunette added: “In the rest of the cases the evidence was insufficient to justify prosecution. Throughout the unrest period in 1986 we experienced great difficulty in protecting witnesses, and in getting them to give evidence, because of widespread intimidation from all sides.”

KwaNdebele’s conflict over independence has exacted a heavy toll, disrupting and even ending the lives of hundreds of people. The notables include the former chief minister, Simon Skosana, and his feared lieutenant, Ntuli, the tribal patriarch David Mapoch and his three anti-independence sons, Cornelius, James and Andries. Skosana and Ntuli are dead now. Skosana, a sickly man, died three months after he had been forced by popular pressure to forego his dream of making KwaNdebele an independent state.

The Mapoch tribal home has been firebombed. Two of Mapoch’s sons are in detention. The third is on the run. The conflict has even affected the lives of white officials in KwaNdebele, forcing several senior men to leave KwaNdebele’s service in the past nine months. They include the commissioner general, Gerrie van der Merwe, and the former, commissioner of police, Brigadier Chris van Niekerk. Van der Merwe vacated his office after the KwaNdebele government complained that he was interfering in the political dispute. Van Niekerk was replaced by tough-minded Brigadier Hertzog Lerm. Van Niekerk is said by well-placed observers to have displeased KwaNdebele’s rulers by his reluctance to detain James Mahlangu who, besides being a tribal notable, was the unofficial but de facto “leader of the Opposition”.

James Mahlangu, who was defeated by 41 votes to 25 by George Mahlangu when a successor to Skosana was chosen last November, has been detained two or three times since Lerm became KwaNdebele’s police chief. Another white official who left is Ben Nieuwenhuizen, secretary to the chief minister. A fourth official is OC Buys, secretary of justice. Buys was reportedly dismissed by Chief Minister Mahlangu with only 24 hours’ notice. His summary dismissal came after he had served in the KwaNdebele administration for seven years, having been posted there in 1979 soon after the South African government finally decided to recognise KwaNdebele as a tenth “national state”. According to his colleagues, Buys insisted that justice should be seen to be done in KwaNdebele. Another senior official who is no longer serving in KwaNdebele is EL Samuels, secretary for finance.

The evidence suggests the civil service was purged of “uncooperative” white officials even before known black opponents of the KwaNdebele government were dismissed from the Legislative Assembly. It was, of course a purged Legislative Assembly which, on May 5, reinstated the request for independence which had been unanimously rescinded on August 12 last year.

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Patrick Laurence
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