At a dramatic press conference, he said the activities had been concealed from him and other senior officials and politicians. 'I am shocked. I am disappointed. But I'm also resolute, ' he said. 'If there is a sore, I want to cut it out.' Twenty-three officers have been suspended or forced to retire, he said, although he did not name them. Prosecutions would follow, he promised.
The President was acting after receiving the preliminary findings of an investigation he set up last month under General Pierre Steyn, an air force officer, into the activities of the armed forces' Military Intelligence (MI) branch.
Evidence has been accumulating for two years of MI involvement in a campaign to defend white minority rule and divide the black population, using tactics ranging from disinformation to assassination. Most controversially, MI and other branches of the security forces stand accused of fostering township violence.
Questioned repeatedly yesterday about these charges, Mr de Klerk admitted: 'I think I can say, yes, that the findings will lead to the conclusion that some of the activities did lead to the death of people.'
He went on: 'There are indications that some of the activities and some of the individuals might have been motivated by a wish to prevent us from succeeding in our goals.' Although he denied that this confirmed the existence of a 'third force', his purge of military top brass will be widely taken as evidence that the security forces' high command is deeply implicated in subverting government policies.
The African National Congress welcomed Mr de Klerk's move but said it had come two years too late - years in which some 5,000 people had died. Gill Marcus, an ANC spokeswoman, said: 'It is a pity that so many people should have had to die before any action was taken.'
Mr de Klerk, who has consistently denied press allegations of such a conspiracy, sought to dispel any notion yesterday that he had been anything other than an innocent bystander. 'The activities which have now come to my attention point to a process in which political office bearers were not fully informed or, very often, were misled,' he said.
Explaining his decision not to reveal the names or the specific crimes of the 23 officers in question, Mr de Klerk said that many were on holiday and most still had to be informed. More to the point, he feared a cover-up.
'We will make sure that not one of these people is in a position to cover his tracks . . . We are not dealing with kids, we are dealing with well trained people who are taking constant precautions against being caught out.'
The implication in Mr de Klerk's claim that 'political office bearers' were kept in the dark is that senior generals in the South African Defence Force (SADF) may have been fully aware of what was going on. The Johannesburg Sunday Times is expected to report today that the SADF chief, General Andreas 'Kat' Liebenberg, and General George Meyring, the chief of the Army, are on Mr de Klerk's list.
The president, who has always contended that if there were sinister goings-on in the security forces they were the work of a few individuals, believes he can face down the generals. 'We dare not allow our security forces in general, and our intelligence services in particular, to be crippled in their capacity to work against the evil plans of those responsible for violence and unrest.'
Nest of plotters, page 13
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