Malan trial threatens SA unity government

When General Magnus Malan, a former defence minister and one of apartheid's darkest heroes, appears before a Durban court on Thursday to face murder charges, along with 10 other retired senior military officers, history will be made. It will be the first time high-ranking members of South Africa's old white minority government and its top military brass have been charged with abuses committed under apartheid.

The former president FW de Klerk, now a deputy president, yesterday demanded that his former Cabinet member be granted temporary immunity from prosecution. The African National Congress bristled at Mr de Klerk's defence of the accused, saying it implied that the alleged crimes "were an integral part of the official policy of the government of the day."

Commentators compare the envisaged prosecution of General Malan and his comrades to the treason trial of Nelson Mandela in 1963-64 in terms of its legal significance and the impact on the country. "This is the most important political event in South Africa since the [1994 all-race] elections," said Paul Pereira, of the South African Institute of Race Relations, a private research group.

General Malan, indicted by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial attorney-general's office, is to be charged with the hit-squad-style killings of 13 blacks, 11 of them women and children, on 21 January, 1987.

Also facing murder charges are a former defence force chief, Jannie Geldenhuys, a former army chief, Kat Liebenberg, a former military intelligence director, Tieni Groenewald, and seven other senior officers.

While the news was greeted with enthusiasm by anti-apartheid activists and ANC supporters, conservative whites and black opposition groups accused the ANC of political opportunism in the timing of the announcement, just before the first all-race local government elections tomorrow. More worrying than the impact on the polls will be the repercussions on Mr Mandela's government of national unity, which includes Mr de Klerk's National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

"The issue of Malan's arrest poses the single greatest threat to the government of national unity," said Paul van Zyl, of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, an independent Johannesburg-based think-tank. Mr De Klerk will be in a difficult position if the Malan case goes to trial. He inherited General Malan as defence minister from his predecessor, PW Botha, in 1989 but demoted him to minister for water and forestry because of his confrontational style. None the less, Gen Malan remained in Mr De Klerk's cabinet until 1993.

"The degree of danger to the government depends first on whether the case goes to trial and how much information emerges which might make it difficult for De Klerk to stay in the government," Mr Van Zyl said. "The second question is to what extent can the government of national unity survive without De Klerk."

When he was president, Mr de Klerk granted indemnities to several ANC militants in order to aid negotiations and national reconciliation.

Mr De Klerk wants indemnities granted until the Malan case can be taken up by the Truth Commission, which is expected to start work next year and has the power to grant amnesties to people who committed crimes of a political nature in the apartheid era.

Neither Mr Mandela nor the ANC have indicated how they intend to deal with the situation.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map