South African leader declares end to secret funding of political groups

July 31, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

PRETORIA, South Africa -- President Frederik W. de Klerk announced yesterday that he is ending all secret funding of political groups in an effort to rebuild confidence in his troubled government.

Mr. de Klerk also said he was launching a review of all covert operations of the South African government in the wake of a major scandal involving secret funding of the black political group Inkatha.

The announcement came one day after Mr. de Klerk removed two powerful Cabinet ministers who were linked to the scandal and to other controversies involving alleged government support for enemies of the African National Congress.

Mr. de Klerk said he demoted Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok and Defense Minister Magnus Malan on Monday because they had become an obstacle to South Africa's 18-month-old political reform process.

"We must assure that the defense force and the police force are not controversial. They had become controversial," the president said in a nationally televised news conference.

The reassignment of the two men to minor Cabinet posts amounted to a concession to Nelson Mandela's ANC, which had long demanded their resignations. The ANC charged that the police and the army, led by Mr. Vlok and General Malan respectively, were working with the ANC's political enemies in an effort to undermine it.

Their accusations took on a new urgency with the disclosure on July 19 that the South African police had secretly funded the Zulu-based Inkatha movement and its trade union in 1989 and 1990.

Mr. de Klerk said his government was reviewing all its covert operations "in view of the latest controversy" and would appoint a special advisory committee of respected members of the private sector to advise him about covert projects that still exist.

He said that he already had canceled a number of secret government projects because they were no longer needed in the current climate of negotiations.

He also said he had decided as a result of the scandal that "political parties or organizations which are involved in politics may not be financed from secret funds."

Mr. de Klerk justified the funding of Inkatha in previous years by saying that the government had been in "a state of war" with the ANC. "Among other things, their policy was the violent overthrow of the state."

The president's action this week was clearly designed to put negotiations with the ANC back on track following the "Inkathagate" scandal, which caused a crisis of credibility for his government.

Mr. de Klerk refused to admit that his government had done anything wrong in secretly paying more than $625,000 to Inkatha and its union, but he conceded that the issue "has become a divisive matter. It is a stumbling block in the way of building trust."

Mr. de Klerk said he hadn't known of the secret funding of Inkatha, which was dispensed through a special covert account that was supposed to be earmarked for combating economic sanctions against South Africa.

He also denied that the police and the army were fomenting township violence between the ANC and its opponents, as the ANC has charged, although he said it was possible that disgruntled individuals within those forces might be causing trouble. He vowed to prosecute anyone found to be involved in the violence. "The government has nothing to hide in this matter," he said.

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