Whites and blacks unite to foil democracy: A mass-murderer's death highlights sinister links between extremists, writes John Carlin in Johannesburg

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SKIN COLOUR is no longer the key determinant of political conflict in South Africa. Loose links between black and white organisations on the right wing, long latent, have hardened in recent months into full-blown alliances against the common enemy: democracy.

The most recent symptom of this trend has been the decision of the extreme-right World Apartheid Movement to change its name to the World Preservatist Movement. The WPM leader, Koos Vermeulen, who celebrates Hitler's birthday each year, revealed this week that the move had been occasioned by the need to provide 'a right-wing home for non-whites'.

The news that the Movement, a shadowy fringe group linked in the past to the South African intelligence services, had changed its name might have passed unnoticed had it not been for Mr Vermeulen's disclosure to the Star newspaper on Tuesday that a black mass-murderer killed in police custody at the weekend had been a member of his organisation.

Victor Kheswa, a member of Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, was allegedly involved in scores of murders during the past three years in what are known as 'the Vaal townships' - prominent among which is Sebokeng, some 35 miles south of Johannesburg. Kheswa was known in Sebokeng as 'the Vaal Monster'.

Identified by residents again and again as public enemy number one, Kheswa was never charged by the police. Following a confession last week by one of his alleged associates in the Vaal killings, Kheswa was arrested at the weekend and then killed. After a public outcry, and claims by the African National Congress (ANC) that the killing was part of a cover-up, three policemen have been suspended pending a murder investigation.

The ANC believes that Kheswa, had he lived, would have been able to provide new proof that a 'Third Force' - South African code for right-wing elements in the security forces - has been directing the 'black-on-black' killings.

It is the history and connections of the WPM that provides the grounds for such suspicions. Janus Walus, the Polish-born emigre charged with the assassination in April of the ANC leader Chris Hani, is a member of the WPM's sister organisation, the Afrikaner National Socialist Movement - which Koos Vermeulen also heads. Mr Walus' alleged co-conspirators, Clive and Gaye Derby-Lewis, moved in Mr Vermeulen's circle and, like him, enjoyed warm relations with far-right anti-Communist movements worldwide.

Mr Vermeulen was also closely associated with Adriaan Maritz and Henry Martin, who were charged with carrying out a bomb explosion at a black taxi rank in Pretoria in 1990 and, later that year, with the murder of an ANC supporter in Durban.

Mr Maritz and Mr Martin jumped bail and fled to Britain on false passports. In London they announced they had both been South African military intelligence operatives, a claim reinforced by the lack of interest South Africa has shown in obtaining their extradition. The plot thickened when Mr Maritz revealed the name of a security policeman who had also allegedly been involved in the Durban murder.

Indicating that these shadowy networks continue to operate, Kheswa was arrested in connection with a massacre in Sebokeng in April, on the night before Chris Hani's funeral. He and three others allegedly went on a three-hour shooting spree in which they killed 19 people picked off at random from a moving car.

Two weeks ago, in an exact replica of that attack, 14 Sebokeng residents were killed. One of Kheswa's associates - one of the three the police have arrested - is Henter Ndlovu, who also had links to WPM. Mr Vermeulen admitted on Wednesday that he had 'communicated' with him. Both Mr Ndlovu, who has been linked to 60 murders but had been released on bail, and Kheswa lived in KwaMadala single-men's hostel, an Inkatha stronghold in the Vaal from which the massacre at Boipatong township, where 42 died in June last year, was launched.

In the Boipatong trial last month a witness said that Inkatha's Transvaal leader, Themba Khoza, had ordered the killers on their return to the hostel to hide their weapons. A former senior official of Inkatha, Bruce Anderson, alleged last December that Mr Khoza was on the payroll of South African military intelligence.