SA police braced for far-right backlash

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South Africa's police chief has ordered his forces to brace themselves for a possible right-wing backlash after last week's arrest of the apartheid- era defence minister Magnus Malan on murder charges.

The disclosure, in a "top-secret" police document released to the foreign media yesterday, was the first indication that the Mandela government was taking seriously speculation that the arrest of General Malan, defence minister from 1980 to 1991, might provoke a violent right-wing response.

The Police Commissioner, George Fivaz, expressed his fears last week after it was announced that warrants were being issued for Gen Malan and 10 former senior officers for alleged involvement in training Zulu paramilitary units used to attack rivals in the African National Congress. The men appeared before a court in Durban on Thursday and were released on bail. The trial is expected to start early next year.

The police document was drawn up by Lieutenant-General Wouter Grove, head of the police intelligence arm, and called on regional chiefs to assess the right-wing threat. In particular, he asked them to watch out for a resurgence of militant right-wing activities as well as "the polarisation of current security-force members around these issues".

Before last week's arrests, several Afrikaner and right-wing leaders were making threatening noises over what they considered the unfairness of an action which sought to try white officials for apartheid-era crimes while many black leaders were granted temporary indemnities by the former white government.

Eugene Terreblanche, head of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, said last week: "They are now arresting our people who fought in a war. How can you arrest people for murder who fought in a war?" He said Afrikaners would rise up against such an "unlawful system" but his remarks sounded more threatened than threatening.

General Constand Viljoen, leader of the Freedom Front, the only right- wing party to contest last year's all-race national elections, accused Nelson Mandela of double standards which undermined the process of reconciliation for which the President stood.

Mr Mandela hit back yesterday: "Nobody should lecture to me about reconciliation," he told journalists. "I started reconciliation in this country. I am the architect of that process."

Signs are that the white right is a spent force. The big defeat of right- wing parties in Wednesday's local elections is one indicator that the right can no longer mobilise in significant numbers. However, some organisations such as the South African Institute of Race Relations have said that if Afrikaners feel they are completely broken and have no voice, some militants might resort to letting violence speak for them.