Report: Apartheid info scandal not properly probed

The notorious information scandal of the 1970s was never sufficiently probed, according to a report into corruption under the apartheid government released on Monday.

“The information scandal was probed by the Auditor General, a one-man commission headed by Judge Mostert, and finally by the Erasmus Commission, which is accused of having not probed the matter sufficiently,” said the report, authored by Hennie van Vuuren of the Institute for Security Studies.

The information scandal, which rocked the Nationalist government between 1977 and 1979, was the result of secret funding by then prime minister BJ Vorster to “wage propaganda wars at home and abroad”.

The funding was to the Department of Information, which established publications such as The Citizen and tried to buy established foreign newspapers to try improve the press the apartheid government received.

The funding was kept under wraps and only a few people close to Vorster, including then defence minister PW Botha and businessman and rugby supremo Louis Luyt, knew about it.

Most of the Cabinet of the time, the Parliament and all of the electorate knew nothing of the money being spent on positive propaganda.

The information scandal was exposed in 1977 by the now defunct Rand Daily Mail when an informer approached two journalists.

Evidence emerged on the vast amounts of money and the lavish lifestyles of employees of the Department of Information.

Although it was reported that the department had spent about R187-million—if the rand’s value then is compared with the currency’s value in 2005—the full extent of expenditure was not known.

Most of the money was channelled from the secret defence fund of which details were kept secret.

According to the report, a Hollywood producer made an astonishing revelation in 2000 during a documentary programme broadcast on CBS.

Arnon Milchan said that he was an arms dealer for the Israeli government before becoming a filmmaker. He reportedly disclosed on the programme that he had worked for the South African state and had access to a R1,8-billion fund “to buy off politicians and unsympathetic media”.

The report asked the question whether all the money put forward by the Department of Information had been used for what it was intended.

The subsequent investigation into the scandal was also not above suspicion.

Ten years after the original investigation, a retired judge, Judge Hiemstra, accused the Erasmus Commission of being “a means to remove the information scandal from the arena”.

He questioned the fact that a provincial judge had been appointed to investigate a scandal implicating the state president, the prime minister and other Cabinet ministers.

It was also clear that the commission was intimidated.

“Although commissions of enquiry are meant to signal the beginning of attempts to tackle issues such as abuse of office ... the attempts to investigate this scandal signalled ... the end of any attempt at probing the myriad secret accounts that would grow under the tenure of PW Botha’s Presidency.”

In conclusion, the report asked if it was known what had happened to the remainder of the Department of Information’s funds, which was held abroad. It also posed the question if any of the department’s funds were used to finance the National Party.—Sapa

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