Apartheid's fanatic in a polka-dot frock: John Carlin investigates what lies behind the English-style respectability exuded by some of South Africa's far-right

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THE Derby-Lewises are the sort of couple who might at first be welcomed into some English Tory circles. But, after a while, their social behaviour - a certain 'nouveau' shrillness - would probably raise eyebrows. Though people would be unlikely to suspect them of conspiracy to murder, their names would, in time, fade from the invitation lists for bridge evenings and fetes.

Clive, a retired military man in his fifties, speaks in the manner of the English upper classes, wears blue blazers and cravats and sports a twirling RAF moustache. A whiff of the stage rotter, the public school cad, serves, if anything, to enhance his social plausibility, to convey an implicit disdain for the lower orders.

Gaye, 54, comes across as the no-nonsense, horsey type: flat sensible shoes, navy sweaters, practical polka-dot frocks. Clever, bitingly articulate, she is famous for her withering put-downs.

It is not a surprise to those who know the couple that Gaye was charged ahead of her husband for the murder on 10 April of the African National Congress leader, Chris Hani. He, a former MP of the South African Conservative Party (CP), was arrested on 17 April after interrogation of the chief suspect, Polish-born Janusz Walus. Her response was to issue a statement denouncing the government's spinelessness. 'It is symptomatic that white patriots sit in jail while communist terrorists roam the streets. He (Clive) voluntarily served 20 years in the South African Defence Force because he believed in his heritage and his people. Today that heritage has been sold out to the mob.'

Four days later, she was arrested. On Friday the police, who believe Mr Derby-Lewis provided Mr Walus with the gun that killed Hani, succeeded at the Pretoria Supreme Court in prolonging his detention for a further 10 days. He has not been charged yet but his wife appeared at the magistrates' court in Boksburg, where the assassination took place, and was ordered to be remanded at Pretoria Central prison prior to formal murder charges being laid on 12 May. The court prosecutor said she and Mr Walus would be the co-accused in the trial.

Clive Derby-Lewis is a high- profile figure in the international, anti-communist fringe, with links to a number of Conservative MPs in Britain, where he has been a speaking guest of the Monday Club. She is a somewhat livelier individual who in her life has played numerous - sometimes remarkably contradictory - roles. Born in Australia into a devoutly Roman Catholic family, she became a nun in her twenties. She eventually rebelled and left for South Africa where she married an intelligence officer. In the mid-Seventies she obtained a job in Pretoria in the Department of Information, the body at the centre of the corruption scandal that brought down the government of John Vorster in 1978 and ushered in the hawkish era of P W Botha.

In 1982 she joined the Conservative Party, formed that year by a hardline faction who broke away from the long-ruling National Party, outraged at what they perceived to be Mr Botha's betrayal of apartheid. About that time, Gaye Graser, as her married name then was, took over the management of a gay bar called Truckers in a sleazy downtown Johannesburg hotel. A frequent visitor at the bar, and one of Gaye's best friends, was Craig Kotze, a cadet journalist on the Johannesburg Star, who stunned his colleagues in 1989 by revealing that he was a captain in the South African police. Today he is the official spokesman of the Minister of Law and Order.

Gaye divorced her husband, Anton, with whom she had a son, and married Clive in the mid- Eighties. He had also been divorced. Not long after marrying Clive she obtained a job at Die Patriot, the Conservative Party mouthpiece. A prolific letter-writer to the local press, she belongs to that school of thought which refuses to accept that the worldwide communist conspiracy has ceased to exist.

Her husband became an MP in 1987, forging a reputation in parliament, where even his CP colleagues strove to keep up civil appearances, as an inveterate racist. Andries Beyers, a senior CP official at the time, said: 'I think sometimes he became an embarrassment to us. He was very, very hardline. He had a calling to bring English-speakers to the CP, but his personal style put them off.' He lost his parliamentary seat in the 1989 whites-only election and decided, without abandoning his role as self-appointed leader of the English-speaking South African ultra-right, to consolidate friendships elsewhere.

One of these friends was David Irving, the controversial British historian famous for his Hitler sympathies and the row last year with the Sunday Times over the Goebbels diaries. The first recorded instance of a meeting between the two men was in 1986 when Mr Irving came to South Africa on a visit sponsored by the Stallard Foundation, a right-wing organisation for English-speaking whites. Mr Irving delivered speeches countrywide on 'the march of communism' and suchlike. He found, he was quoted as saying, that 'there are more pro- Hitler people in South Africa . . . The reason is unknown to me'. In 1989 Mr Irving visited South Africa again and told a newspaper that he had become 'great friends' with Mr Derby-Lewis. He was in South Africa again in February and March this year.

It was through moving in Mr Irving's circles that Mr Derby- Lewis became involved with the Western Goals Institute, a London-based organisation with close links to France's Jean-Marie le Pen, the aim of which is to build 'a powerful international axis of the right'. In February last year, Mr Derby-Lewis was elected honorary president of WG, succeeding the Salvadorean death squad leader, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who had died of cancer.

Western Goals has provided him with a passport into a complex network of shadowy anti- communist, anti-Semitic organisations worldwide. In 1990, for example, he attended the 22nd international conference of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) in his capacity as WG vice-president.

Mr Derby-Lewis was instrumental last year in establishing links between the Conservative Party and Inkatha, now formalised in an anti-ANC front called the Concerned South Africans Grouping. He developed links with right-wing Conservative Party figures in Britain during three trips to London organised by Western Goals in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The Monday Club president, Lord Sudeley, confirmed that Mr Derby-Lewis addressed club members at the House of Lords in the autumn of 1988.

In June 1989 Mr Derby-Lewis again met Monday Club MPs, and in July 1990 he addressed a dinner of the Essex Monday Club. During that trip he met the former Davis Cup tennis player Buster Mottram and the astronomer Patrick Moore, as well as MPs Teresa Gorman, Sir Teddy Taylor and John Carlisle. Relations are particularly cordial between Mr Derby-Lewis and a frequent visitor to South Africa, the Tory MP Andrew Hunter.

In June Mr Derby-Lewis, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reported, set up a scheme to train whites in the use of firearms as protection against the perceived 'terrorist onslaught'.

The scheme, the South African police now believe, evolved into a plot to assassinate not only Chris Hani but also Nelson Mandela and eight others named on a hit- list in Mr Walus's home. The police colonel heading the investigation into the Hani murder said Mrs Derby-Lewis had sent a copy of the hit-list to a friend, asking him to obtain the addresses of the persons named.

If Mrs Derby-Lewis has been identified at this stage as more culpable in the murder, a clue as to why was provided in a letter she wrote last May, also quoted in the Johannesburg Sunday Times, in which she complained about her husband's lack of backbone. 'I cannot see much hope with the leadership at the moment,' she wrote. 'Things may change, however, so all is not lost.'

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Five whites were killed when black attackers fired guns and tossed a grenade into a hotel bar last night in the southern coastal town of East London. Police confirmed the deaths and said six whites and one black were injured. No one claimed responsibility.

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