Dressed in sober suits, 11 retired officers representing the cream of old South Africa's military establishment were yesterday arrested, brought before a judge and charged with 13 apartheid-era murders. They were granted bail and told to appear in Durban's regional court again on 1 December.
Never before had such a distinguished group of high-ranking military men had to face official charges for crimes committed during the years of white minority rule. Among the accused were five generals and an admiral, but only one of them could really lay claim to star status: General Magnus Malan, a former defence chief who served as defence minister during the last violent decade of apartheid, from 1980 to 1991. It is a fact of which he is still proud.
After being released on bail, General Malan said yesterday: "What happened here today is causing the biggest crisis that's ever been in the democracy of South Africa. I would like to say I am a moderate ... I am a democrat ... I am a Christian and I'm very proud of it."
The statement, like the general's history, is controversial. Throughout his ministerial tenure, General Malan was an outspoken foe of President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.
As defence chief in the 1970s he came into close contact with P W Botha, then defence minister, a post he would later relinquish to General Malan when he became president. General Malan once said Mr Botha had had a great influence on him and their views on politics and military strategy coincided.
In both posts General Malan articulated the "total onslaught" theory, which was used to justify the expansion and ruthless tactics adopted by the South African military in its war against the black liberation movement. According to this argument, the Communist world, working through the ANC and its allies, was bent on a "total onslaught" against South Africa and that in response the country had to adapt a "total national strategy" to combat it.
During his final days at the Defence Ministry, General Malan repeatedly fended off charges that for years undercover army units had stoked black faction-fighting and killed government opponents. In 1990 he admitted the existence of a shadowy anti-guerrilla unit, but denied ordering its members to kill.
When F W de Klerk and his fellow apartheid reformists took over from Mr Botha, General Malan was demoted. He resigned from Mr de Klerk's cabinet in 1993.
The case against General Malan and the others focuses on their alleged role in setting up a paramilitary force for Inkatha, the black rival organisation of the ANC. The charges relate to a hit squad attack on the home of Willie Ntuli at KwaMakhuta, near Durban, on 21 January 1987. Thirteen people, including seven children, were killed in the attack, which was apparently aimed at Ntuli's son, a local youth activist.
Central to the case is General Malan's connection with special training camps set up in the mid-1980s in Namibia's Caprivi Strip. The camps were ostensibly to train bodyguards for Zulu politicians. However, it is alleged that the Caprivi was really a training ground for Inkatha paramilitary cadres, specialising in assassination and sabotage.Reuse content