Army chief increases attacks on ANC: Public statements reflect the deepening discontent among South African military leaders, writes John Carlin in Johannesburg

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The Independent Online
Nelson Mandela has complained to President F W de Klerk, it was learnt yesterday, about the increasing political prominence the chief of the South African army has acquired in recent weeks after a number of public outbursts against the African National Congress. Lieutenant-General George Meiring has in the process confirmed allegations that army intelligence continues, in violation of official policy, to monitor the activities of the ANC inside the country.

Mr Mandela raised the issue with Mr de Klerk in what is understood to have been a telephone conversation before their peace summit in Johannesburg 10 days ago. But since then General Meiring has only stepped up his anti- ANC campaign. What originally upset Mr Mandela were statements by the general, second only to the South African Defence Force chief, General 'Kat' Liebenberg, in the military hierarchy, in the days prior to the massacre at Bisho on 7 September in which 29 died. General Meiring warned at the time that, according to his information, the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), was stock-piling weapons near Bisho in preparation for military attacks.

On 25 September, the day before the government-ANC summit, the general said Umkhonto members from all over the country had been moved by road and air to Natal as part of a plan forcibly to disrupt an Inkatha rally at KwaMashu township. He said the Umkhonto operatives were moving weapons into the area in preparation for attacks on Zulu headmen loyal to Inkatha.

'The movement of people and weapons into KwaZulu where tension is already unacceptably high can only be regarded as dangerous, sinister and reckless,' General Meiring said. As it turned out, nothing happened at KwaMashu to substantiate his claims.

General Meiring again picked up the theme on Friday. Now, he said, Umhkonto was poised to start a sabotage campaign against government installations. There is good reason to believe that his utterances betray unhappiness in the army high command at what, in common with a growing number of whites, they perceive to be President de Klerk's capitulation to the ANC 'Communists'.

The general first rose to public prominence in June when he spoke out against a proposal by Judge Richard Goldstone, appointed by Mr de Klerk to chair an inquiry into political violence, for army Special Forces' Battalion 32 to be removed from 'peace-keeping duties' in the townships. 'I will deploy 32 Battalion where and when needed,' he said, prompting Judge Goldstone to issue a statement in which he remarked upon 'what can generously be described as an unhelpful response from a senior member of the South African Defence Force'.

In the same speech General Meiring added that there was no possibility of the battalion being disbanded. Six weeks later Mr de Klerk, responding to national and international pressure, went ahead and did just that.

A military expert who asked that his identity should not be disclosed said yesterday that the problem lay in General Meiring's, and indeed General Liebenberg's, failure to accept either that the war against the ANC was over or that Mr de Klerk was right in pursuing a negotiated political settlement. 'The army, besides, is traditionally the most hardline wing of the SADF. Not only are they traditionally more conservative, they are much more implicated in dirty tricks.' Which is the main reason why army generals were particularly upset at the government's failure in the agreement reached with the ANC on 26 September to secure a promised linkage between the prisoners' release and a blanket amnesty extending to all members of the security officers.

Someone else who is upset by the government-ANC agreement is the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Chief Buthelezi, whose conservative Zulu organisation is known to have had close links with military intelligence, shares the right-wing view that the government is selling out the country to the ANC. On Sunday he issued a statement which, as an alarmed senior diplomat observed, must have gladdened the generals' hearts. He announced he would not re-enter constitutional negotiations until Umkhonto weSizwe - which he termed the ANC's 'ruthless army' - was disbanded.