MINUTES after PW Botha this week warned Nelson Mandela against waking the tiger of Afrikaner nationalism, a brown tabby cat wandered into the press conference and began rubbing itself affectionately against the legs of assembled journalists.
The incident served to underscore the president’s view that threats of a right-wing backlash over the Magnus Malan murder trial are exaggerated and that it is best to leave the justice system unhindered to deal with a more serious threat – escalating hit-squad violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
There is little doubt Mandela is treating the Malan trial as one of the most delicate issues on his political agenda of late. It has raised the spectre of counter-revolution and the most serious rupture so far in the government of national unity.
A number of measures have been put in place to deal with disgruntled right-wingers. Last week, Mandela told former Defence Minister Joe Modise not to attend a military exhibition in Dubai in case of problems in the army’s ranks.
Police Commissioner George Fivaz instructed one of his generals to survey the attitudes of police officers about the trial. And the president has been holding a series of briefings with businessmen, diplomats, police, army generals and church leaders to explain his determination not to interfere in the course of this explosive trial.
But Mandela has also taken a firm stance against the right by refusing to accept PW Botha’s demands for a moratorium on all political trials. Apart from the fact that he is loath to interfere in the functioning of the judiciary, the president is convinced there is no serious threat of mutiny or counter- revolution from the far-right.
Mandela also made it clear to Botha and Freedom Front leader Constand Viljoen, during the visit to the old president’s home in the Wilderness this week, that he was deeply concerned by reports that elements of the third-force network allegedly set up in the mid-1980’s by some of the accused in the upcoming trial were still actively stoking up violence in KwaZulu-Natal – and that there was little chance of any reprieve while these activities
“All of this talk about awakening wild tigers is from people who are living in a theme park from the past. There is no fear in the president’s office that anxiety amongst a range of right-wing people will translate into coherent and organised resistance,” says secretary for Safety and Security Azhar Cachalia.
“The president has made it clear he does not have the power to interfere in a criminal case and in that sense he is not using the trial to curb violence in Natal. But we have consistently pointed out there is a culture of impunity amongst the killers in that province and, because of the trial, they will be increasingly aware they will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Mandela’s tough stance has been bolstered by what he sees as the strength of the documentary evidence and the array of witnesses, including senior defence force officers, who will be presented in court to back the attorney-general’s case (see accompanying story).
There are strong indications the accused now know the extent of the evidence lining up against them, and the president has used this to suggest that Viljoen and other right-wing leaders run the risk of embarrassing themselves if they express too much solidarity with the suspects. This probably explains why the Freedom Front leader has recently stopped his sabre-rattling over the trial.
During his meeting with PW Botha, who apparently displayed signs of senility and lack of concentration, Mandela advised the right-wing leaders the only way for the accused to obtain amnesty would be for them to ask KwaZulu-Natal Attorney-General Tim McNally to refer the case to the Amnesty Committee within the truth commission. The final decision about the case rests with the court. That innocent civilians including six children died in the the KwaMakutha massacre means the court may insist the trial runs its course.
The only sweetener the president offered was the possibility of a pardon if the suspects are convicted.
Paul van Zyl, coordinator of the truth commission department at the Centre for the Study of Violence, says Mandela will probably use the same approach to deal with fears that the Government of National Unity will be jeopardised by the repercussions of the
Much of the evidence consists of minutes of the State Security Council in the mid-1980s which took a decision to set up a special subcommittee to oversee the creation of a paramilitary force to bolster Inkatha’s ability to deal with the growing strength of the African National Congress and allied organisations in the province at the time. Members of this unit, known as the Caprivi 200, have been implicated in carrying out the KwaMakhuta massacre and a series of other political
It is believed the documents will show that key members of the State Security Council and the Department of Military Intelligence took a decision at the time to take the strategy it perfected in Mozambique and Angola – support for surrogate forces which waged low-intensity civil war designed to keep left-wing governments in those countries on their knees – and use it inside the country to counter the ANC.
Much of the evidence will allegedly point fingers at National Party leader FW de Klerk, other National Party leaders in the Cabinet, and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
‘There is absolutely no doubt that key members of the Cabinet will feel the heat. There was a time when there probably would have been a decision to hold back, but there are now serious questions about whether it is neccessary to worry about keeping the Government of National Unity intact,” says Van Zyl.
“De Klerk could probably be replaced by other leaders like Roelf Meyer and it is not certain that the government will collapse without Nationalists in the Cabinet.”
This prognosis is confirmed by the fact that Mandela did not bother to include Buthelezi and De Klerk in his wide-ranging consultations about the trial.
But Van Zyl noted South Africa had recently scored a good credit rating on world investment markets because of its reputation for a consensual government and that the presidency will have to take into account the “bump-on” effect that ruptures in the Cabinet would have on international business confidence.