South African Election: The fear that stops De Klerk tackling terrorists: Commentary

PRESIDENT de Klerk said yesterday that he would leave no stone unturned in his efforts to track down the terrorists who are attempting, at the eleventh hour, to sabotage the South African elections.

He has said this before. His response to allegations four years ago that right-wing elements in the security forces had embarked on a violent campaign to destabilise the democratic process was that he would 'cut to the bone'. He failed badly then, and one hopes he will not fail again.

The question is whether Mr de Klerk, by taking action much earlier, might not have avoided this last-minute panic - all these people being torn to pieces on the streets of Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela never tires of reminding him that he has been slack in grappling with the extreme right, and with the threat from within the security forces.

The commandos of Eugene Terre-Blanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) have been holding paramilitary training exercises openly, putting on special displays for the television cameras, admitting their objective was to wage war against 'the Communists' of the African National Congress. There has always been buffoonery in the AWB and, perhaps, Mr Terre-Blanche's overgrown boy- scout commandos never represented much of a threat. But operating within the folds of the AWB have been cells of fanatics driven by the same paranoia which inspires Mr Terre-Blanche's oratory.

The police have taken action recently against some extremists, but more often they have been released after brisk, gentlemanly, interrogation. The security forces have never pursued the extreme right with the zeal they displayed against the ANC in the Eighties, when the organisation was banned. To which they might reply, with some justice, that the AWB has never been illegal.

Where the government has a lot to answer for is in its failure to explore the countless allegations made in the press about a 'third force' within the police and army. More so, given the findings released last month of the commission of inquiry into political violence, chaired by Judge Richard Goldstone. The judge found conclusively that a 'third force' existed, and that a security police colonel by the name of Eugene de Kock had planned the killings of commuters on trains, had trained Inkatha hit- squads and provided them with guns, and had deployed his own hit- squads within a clandestine police unit he himself led to kill black civilians. Judge Goldstone implicated three police generals, whose only punishment has been suspension from duty on full pay.

The most serious question that remains to be answered is why the South African Cabinet approved a 1.2m rand ( pounds 280,000) pay-off to Colonel de Kock on his retirement from the police a year ago. The only answer one can come up with is that he received the money to keep quiet. Presumably the fear that he might sing explains why he has not been arrested.

It is people with the expertise of Colonel de Kock who are carrying out the present terror campaign. No ordinary AWB farmer, no amateur right-wing loony, would be capable of planting car bombs in the middle of cities and getting away with it.

Why, then, has Mr de Klerk not reined them in? Because he feared what they might do, if he antagonised them. Because he calculated he would lose support in the white community and risk unleashing a full-blown civil war against the democratic process. He felt, above all, that he had to keep the security forces on board. Which he has largely done.

Maybe his calculation was right. Maybe things would be far worse today if he had acted with conviction against the right wing. But don't doubt for a minute that if 15,000 whites had died in political violence in the last four years instead of 15,000 blacks, heads would have rolled long ago.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing