Police foil plot to murder Slovo: Communist Party leader says assassination plan points to right-wing 'desperation' over progress towards multi-racial state

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JOHANNESBURG - Joe Slovo seemed to be the last person to know that a cell of right-wing extremists was planning to assassinate him outside his home later this month. The police, who had known about the plot since last Friday, had not told him about the threat as of yesterday morning, writes Karl Maier.

Mr Slovo said he had learned of the plot from Jacques Pauw, the reporter for The Star newspaper who broke the story. The police have confirmed that one of the plotters had confessed at John Vorster Square police station.

The African National Congress legal adviser, Mathew Phosa, said that when he asked the Police Commissioner, Johan van der Merwe, about the report he, too, initially expressed ignorance of the case and only confirmed it after checking with his subordinates.

'It makes one wonder who in the police one can trust,' Mr Slovo told reporters yesterday. Mr Slovo is no stranger to assassination. His life has been threatened several times over the past few years. He lost his first wife, Ruth First, to a letter bomb sent by South African agents to Maputo, Mozambique, in 1982.

When police arrested the alleged assassin of ANC leader Chris Hani last month, the name of Mr Slovo, one of the first members of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), was at the top of a list of potential targets.

Mr Slovo who, like Mr Hani, enjoys wide popularity among young radicals, related the renewed attempts by right-wing extremists to eliminate ANC and Communist Party leaders to the progress made in multi-party negotiations to establish a transitional government and to hold South Africa's first multi-racial general elections.

'The worrying thing about the right wing now is that they are desperate,' Mr Slovo said. The negotiations had meant that South Africa 'never had as good a chance to reach a breakthrough', he said, and the would-be assassins wanted 'to bring the negotiation process in this country to the brink of collapse'.

ANC spokespersons said yesterday that at least five people were involved in the plan to murder 67-year-old Mr Slovo outside his Johannesburg home between 15 and 21 May. The Star reported that one of the alleged plotters was East European, and that the cell leader was an English-speaking electronics expert.

Janusz Walus, one of the people charged with the murder of Mr Hani outside his home, was born in Poland.

(Photograph omitted)