De Klerk's blind eye to slaughter: John Carlin counts the cost of the Third Force's secret war on the ANC - and tells how his inquiries put him in danger

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THOUSANDS of black South Africans would still be alive today if President F W de Klerk had responded with a will to the mountains of evidence put before him over the years supporting allegations that a 'Third Force' within the state was orchestrating township violence.

That is the scale of the political neglect and the human tragedy that emerges from the finding of Judge Richard Goldstone, released on Friday, that Colonel Eugene de Kock, of the security police, assisted by three police generals, hatched a plot in 1989 to arm and train Inkatha loyalists to kill ANC supporters.

Since Inkatha, with the backing of the South African police, unleashed a wave of violence on the Johannesburg townships in mid-1990, four months after Nelson Mandela's release, some 7,000 have died in the area.

Then there is Natal, Zulu country, where the Inkatha-police axis precipitated a small civil war in 1986, which still rages and has claimed a similar number of victims.

The violence has been the greatest obstacle to political reform since Mr de Klerk began formal negotiations with the ANC in May 1990.

After the 1992 massacre at Boipatong, when Inkatha, assisted by the police, slaughtered 42 innocent men, women and babies, the ANC called off all talks with the government and left South Africa on the brink of anarchy. Even today, with elections less than six weeks away, Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi continues to threaten war. Democracy, stability and prosperity all remain in the balance because 'the Zulu nation', he says, will fight to prevent the elections from denying him the power that he acquired under apartheid.

'The Zulu nation', code for the Inkatha mafia and humble folk fooled or terrorised into supporting him, has been exposed as the criminal instrument of a larger, more sinister mafia working within the white state. The majority of the Zulu people have known for a long time what Mr de Klerk, government officials and most of the South African media failed, with their apartheid blinkers, either to see or to want to see. Which is why, as the polls show, most Zulus support the ANC.

Judge Goldstone's document reveals that Colonel de Kock, of the police counter-intelligence unit, C10, paid Inkatha's Transvaal chairman, Themba Khoza, an informer's wages and supplied him with a vehicle to distribute AK-47s, grenades and other weapons among his hostel-based terror squads. De Kock used his police network to obtain the guns, which came from Namibia and Mozambique. Inkatha paid him for the guns.

Khoza was originally recruited by a C10 officer. C10 paid his legal costs after he was arrested in September 1990 by honest policemen, in possession of a bootful of weapons moments after a massacre of 48 ANC supporters in Sebokeng. A magistrate acquitted him of unlawful possession of firearms.

Khoza, who is in his late thirties, became rapidly perceived as the incarnation of evil in the eyes of ANC officials in the Johannesburg townships, after the dead started piling up in Soweto, Kagiso, Katlehong, Alexandra and Thokoza in August and September 1990. He would always appear on the scene within minutes of a massacre or a rampaging raid by Inkatha hostel-dwellers.

The reason why in many of the townships the violence has ebbed in the past 18 months is that the hostel-dwellers have come to realise that Khoza and his lieutenants - two others of whom were mentioned in the Goldstone document - have been manipulating their fears, leading them into 'wars' nobody in the townships wanted.

Judge Goldstone unearthed prima facie evidence, besides, that under the command of the deputy commissioner of the South African police, General Basie Smit, and the chief of counter-intelligence, General 'Krappies' Englebrecht, De Kock deployed black policemen and Inkatha members to carry out the notorious train killings. Between August 1990 and August 1992, more than 300 black commuters were gunned down or stabbed to death on their way to or from work.

De Kock also organised crash courses in the use of guns and grenades for Inkatha men, often drawn from the East Rand townships where the violence raged long after it had died down elsewhere in the Johannesburg area. In the past year, 1,800 people have died in the East Rand. Similar collusion has been going on in Natal since the mid-1980s when the state security apparatus identified Inkatha as the perfect surrogate to wage war against ANC Zulus. The relationship worked because of the harmonious confluence of political interests. It was a case of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'.

Of course, the ANC hit back. Nelson Mandela's supporters are guilty of an untold number of atrocities, too. But it is undeniable that, had Inkatha and its police friends not started the violence, thousands of victims would still be alive.

Mr de Klerk may now either pay the price at the polls for his supine lack of concern for black life, or benefit from having done something, however late. The door is open for him to send in his 'honest cops'. Either way, Chief Buthelezi's days on the political stage are numbered.

Neal Ascherson, page 20

(Photograph omitted)