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Guerrillas struggle against Pretoria's new military culture

COLONEL Johan Kritzinger, the commanding officer at Wallmannstal army base, has been entrusted with the task of supervising the integration of 7,000 former African National Congress guerrillas into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

So far his job has proved to be more of an exercise in riot control. 'We've had a number of upheavals,' Colonel Kritzinger said. 'For example, I will give them orders to clean the base. They'll refuse and instead gather round and start a political meeting. I'll tell them, 'you've got two minutes to disperse'. They will just laugh. Then I'll bring in my soldiers armed with bayonets - everything absolutely within the law, you understand - and I'll say, 'you've got one minute to disperse'. Then they'll go.'

The colonel was describing the sort of scene replicated over the years in South Africa between anti-apartheid protesters and the police, indicating that while the war might be over, for the ex-guerrillas the struggle continues.

Colonel Kritzinger neglected to mention an incident on 18 September when soldiers used tear-gas and smoke grenades to disperse several hundred former members of the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe (meaning Spear of the Nation, but popularly known as MK) who had stormed the kitchens at Wallmannstal in protest at the poor quality of the food.

Yesterday the deputy chief of the South African army, General Bertie Botha, Colonel Kritzinger and half a dozen other patently exasperated white officers briefed the press at Wallmannstal, a barren outpost 15 miles north of Pretoria.

The message they sought to convey was that without a radical change in attitude on the part of the MK fighters, the pounds 300m of state money due to be spent this year on transforming the recruits from guerrillas into soldiers, will go down the drain.

The situation, General Botha said, was that out of 7,500 'non-statutory force' members officially based at Wallmannstal, 6,200 were absent without leave, their whereabouts unknown since departing from the base on authorised leave at the beginning of the month.

'Unfortunately,' General Botha said, 'some members are unwilling to adhere to the basic principles of military discipline and we've reached the point where we cannot accept this any longer.'

The offenders, meanwhile, have marched to ANC offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria and three other cities in the last week demanding that their leaders intercede on their behalf to improve their food and pay, to obtain MK 'pensions' they said were promised before they joined the SANDF, and to put an end to what they allege are the racist attitudes of the likes of Colonel Kritzinger.

General Botha denied yesterday that his officers were guilty of racism, arguing that black soldiers had served in the defence force without such complaints for many years.

He indicated the nub of the problem was that the MK men were having difficulty with the concept of serving under 'Boer kommandants' long seen as the very symbol of apartheid oppression. 'They have a problem wearing brown SANDF uniforms and being classified as sell- outs,' General Botha said.

A colonel in the general's party defined the problem in terms of a clash of cultures. 'What some of these guys fail to understand is that the military is not a democratic organisation,' the colonel said.