This week, on the eve of promising talks to end the carnage that has claimed over 1 000 lives, he disrupted the process by tightening restrictions on some of the peace negotiators. He effectively house arrested United Democratic Front leaders Archie Gumede and Azhar Cachalia, both of whom were certain to be involved m peace talks. This is the seventh time he has acted at a crucial moment in peace moves – and every time he has disrupted the process.
According to UDF and Cosatu lawyers, previous incidents in which Vlok has acted at crucial moments include:
- November 1987, when UDF leaders were detained while reporting back on proposals that UDF and Cosatu meet Inkatha in Pietermaritzburg;
- February 1988, when UDF and Cosatu leaders were again detained while peace talks were continuing;
eJust weeks later the UDF and Cosatu were restricted while a proposal for a national meeting with lnkatha was being considered;
- Last year, when MP Peter Gastrow tried to persuade Vlok to ease restrictions on some key, figures so that talks could take place, Vlok wrote to him that the UDF consisted of ”revolutionaries”;
- In April this year, immediately after Cosatu and the UDF announced they were prepared to meet Inkatha and a group of ”convenors”, Vlok made a hard-hitting speech threatening an ”iron fist” approach, putting the blame for the violence on the UDF and Cosatu and exonerating lnkatha supporters;
- Last September lnkatha and Cosatu set up a complaints adjudication board to arbitrate in disputes between them. The board failed, partly because restrictions on UDF leaders made it difficult for them to be party to the agreement.
Now observers are accusing Vlok of deliberately acting to prevent peace for political reasons. Archbishop Desmond Tutu told Vlok himself in a telephone conversation this week that if he did not lift the restrictions on negotiators, he would regard any further protestations that Vlok was committed to peace as ”so many lies”. Tutu alleged that while church leadÂ¬ers had spent more than 18 months trying to get the two sides to end the conflict between them, the government had consistently ”acted to hinder the process, never to help it”.
Pierre Cronje, Democratic Party MP for Greytown said Vlok was afÂ¬raid of a peace pact because ”it will undermine the propaganda of a total onslaught. ”VIok is systematically undermining negotiated peace in Natal by arbitrary restriction and detention of leadÂ¬ers who have committed no crimes. While this is happening, murderers of more than 1 000 people are still at large,” he said. Another MP, Peter Gastrow accused Vlok of ”once more trying to sabotage the promising Natal peace talks. ”It forms part of a by-now well established pattern whereby the state intervenes each time it seems peace talks may get off the ground.” Similar allegations have been made by the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Vlok’s response, through an official of his staff, Leon Mellett, has been to deny there is anything exceptional about the restrictions on Gumede, saying he is ”one of more than 500” people served with such orders.
Mellett also denied that police action would undermine talks, saying discussions last September resulted in an increased level of violence. Vlok’s only concern, he said, was to bring peace to the region. In addition to his previous crippling restrictions, Gumede, a president of the United Democratic Front, Archie Gumede, has been barred from leaving his home between 8pm and Sam. Gumede would be a key member of any team to discuss ending violence in Natal; he has already played a crucial role in pushing for talks and in pre-talks negotiations. Already Gumede was barred from participating in any activities of the United Democratic Front or the Release Mandela Committee; from addressing any gathering at which 10 or more people were present or from giving interviews or preparing material for publication.
The additional curbs, signed by Vlok on June 9, mean Gumede will be unable to participate in discussions outside Durban-Ulundi or Johannesburg, for example, both venues being considered by the ”mass democratic movement” and Inkatha – since he might not get back in time. Even meetings taking place in Durban would be barred to him should they take place at night. Cachalia, the UDF treasurer, has experienced the same treatment at the hands of Vlok: his existing restrictions were re-imposed with the addition of a house arrest clause effectively preventing him from taking part in peace talks.
Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi called for the restrictions to be lifted ”believe that the undue and immoral interference in the development of black democracy, which the South African government has specialised in aggravates the conflict in black society about tactics and strategy. ‘The government is creating a situation in which the best side cannot win and the best values cannot be upheld,” he said in a press statement.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.