Tim McNally, the KwaZulu-Natal attorney general, failed to link the generals, the most senior members of the old regime to be charged with atrocities, and other security-force members, with six Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) cadres in the 1987 massacre of 13 people during a prayer meeting in KwaMakutha, a village south of Durban.
General Malan, one of the apartheid era's most hated figures, who called his first appearance in court a dark day for democracy, said the verdict was a triumph for justice.
Tienie Groenewald, the former chief director of military intelligence, who had charges against him dismissed during the trial, said the acquittals vindicated the South African Defence Force (SADF) and hoped they would mark an end to "political trials".
Standing in a corner of the court grounds while the generals' families and IFP supporters celebrated, Mbusi Ntuli, 24, who lost three sisters - aged seven, 14 and 16 - and his father in the KwaMakutha massacre, said he and his mother Anna were disappointed. Like many, he believes the courts and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which encourages perpetrators of injustices to confess in return for amnesty, are failing to expose the truth or the guilty people.
"We are bitter but we expected this verdict," said Mr Ntuli, whose brother Victor, an ANC activist, was the intended target of the 1987 attack. "Those who died were innocent children who knew nothing of the struggle. They were murdered, yet it seems no one killed them."
Mr McNally said that while IFP supporters had perpetrated the massacre, Gen Malan and the other officers were also responsible because they had provided training for the men, among 200 IFP supporters recruited to "Operation Marionette", a secret SADF project to create an IFP military force which would combat the ANC in KwaZulu.
But the three main witnesses - Marionette recruits who turned state's evidence in return for indemnity - were rejected as unreliable by Judge Jan Hugo. He also ruled that military documents failed to prove the generals were part of a conspiracy to create IFP hit-squads.
On Thursday, the six black IFP supporters were cleared of all charges and yesterday it was the turn of the white men, who had allegedly pulled their strings, to go free.
The Ntulis say prosecutors are reluctant to press charges against the old guard and that judges are reluctant to convict. "This is justice in South Africa. It has always been like this and the judiciary are the same old people."
McNally later denied he had been forced to bring the case under political pressure from the ANC and that he had lacked the will to win.
The public are also frustrated by the hearing. A woman in the public gallery said: "There are plenty of dead and damaged people ... but no guilty people. No one supported apartheid. It's denial on a grand scale. Pretty soon we will be talking about alleged apartheid."Reuse content