JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In a dramatic attempt to end the most serious crisis his 2-year-old government has faced, President Frederik W. de Klerk yesterday demoted the two Cabinet ministers in charge of the nation's security forces.
Mr. de Klerk announced the demotion of Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok and Defense Minister Magnus Malan as part of TC surprise, major Cabinet reshuffling. The action, which becomes effective Aug. 30, meets one of the main demands of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, whose relations with Mr. de Klerk's government had become severely strained.
The ANC has demanded the resignations of both powerful officials for months. The demands escalated following disclosure that the South African police secretly gave $90,000 to ANC's chief political rival, Inkatha, during 1989-1990.
Mr. Vlok, 54, and Mr. Malan, 61, had come to symbolize what the ANC describes as the government's inability to impartially oversee the process of ending apartheid and forming a new democratic government in which blacks and whites would have an equal voice.
The ANC and other opposition groups had said they would not pursue talks on a new constitution with Mr. de Klerk's white-minority government unless he responded strongly to the funding scandal.
Mr. de Klerk's startling announcement did not prompt an immediate comment from the ANC, but the left-wing Pan Africanist movement said the whole de Klerk government should resign.
The ANC has said previously that South Africa needs an interim government to oversee the political transition process from white-minority rule to a system of one-person-one-vote.
Mr. Vlok, who has served as law and order minister since 1986, and Mr. Malan, who has been defense minister since 1981, represented hard-liners in Mr. de Klerk's reform government. Mr. de Klerk replaced them with two moderates, Hernus Kriel and Roelf Meyer.
Mr. Kriel, 49, who as planning and provincial affairs minister oversaw the scrapping of several apartheid laws this year, was named minister of law and order. Mr. Meyer, 44, deputy minister of constitutional affairs, was appointed to head the Ministry of Defense.
Their appointments send an important signal about the direction Mr. de Klerk has chosen for his government and the image he wants it to project to black South Africans and to the world.
Both Mr. Vlok and Mr. Malan rose to prominence under former President P. W. Botha, who will be remembered as the man who blocked reform in South Africa despite a number of modest changes initiated during his long tenure.
To the end, both men remained harsh critics of the ANC and of its controversial alliance with the South African Communist Party, which was legalized by Mr. de Klerk last year.
In the reshuffling, Mr. Vlok becomes minister of correctional services and Mr. Malan takes over as minister of water affairs and forestry.
For months, Mr. Mandela and his followers in the nation's most influential anti-apartheid organization have blamed the security forces for fomenting township violence, which has killed more than 6,000 black South Africans over the past five years.
Anti-apartheid forces accused the police and army of siding with Inkatha in the bloody township wars and said the bias of security forces threatened the peace and negotiations process that began 18 months ago. The covert funding scandal, which came to light on July 19, was seen as proof of the suspected collusion against the ANC by the government.
Mr. de Klerk said he was making the changes in his Cabinet because of the resignations -- for personal reasons -- of three ministers not linked to the Inkatha scandal and to lighten the workload of some senior ministers.
Mr. de Klerk, who announced the Cabinet reshuffling late yesterday, was scheduled to address the nation today about his plans for dealing with the "Inkathagate" scandal.