Top army officers purged

Twenty-three senior army officers, including two generals and four brigadiers, were immediately retired or suspended as a result of an internal investigation into covert military activity, F. W. de Klerk announced at a hastily convened press conference on December 19. In addition, an unspecified number of civilian collaborators were fired. These are the key paid informers, some of whom are believed to have been infiltrated deep within the upper ranks of the African National Congress (ANC) . Without them, the security forces are blind, ignorant of the plans the revolutionaries are making. With their support gone, their very lives are at risk!

De Klerk's action followed apparently conclusive evidence uncovered by Gen Pierre Steyn that officers and civilian collaborators were involved in criminal and unauthorised actions and had misled their commanders and ministers. De 'Klerk said there was no evidence pointing to anyone wanting to violently overthrow the government. He also denied that the evidence indicated the existence of a formal "third force " .

The purge was aimed at ridding the security forces of elements who might pose a problem when an interim government is setup and joint control over the security forces is instituted and absorption of MK members starts taking place, informed government officials told The Citizen (21112192). Particularly targeted are Permanent Force members who had fought against Swapo and the ANC.

So great was the speed with which De Klerk acted that even the army's public relations office was not informed of the press conference. In addition, many of the officers disciplined were on holiday and were unaware of their suspension. Steyn was appointed on Nov 18 to investigate covert military actions following disclosures by the Goldstone commission of military intelligence dirty tricks. The axed officers included: Major-General Chris Thirion, Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence, who had a reputation of being one of the more progressive of the younger generation of generals; Major-General Hennie Roux, Chief of Army Intelligence; Brigadier Ferdie van Wyk, director of Army Communications, who master-minded Project Echoes, a clandestine operation launched in April to discredit the ANC by linking MK to the IRA; Brigadier Tolletjie Botha, Director, Directorate of Covert Collection, which was raided in November by investigators of the Goldstone commission, including UN personnel; Brigadier Oos van der Merwe, Director of Army Intelligence; Commander Jack Widdowson of the Navy.

None of these men, who were placed on compulsory retirement, had been linked to any criminal or illegal activities" stressed Defence Minister General Louw in a statement issued on Dec 29.

He named only three other officers, Colonel At Nel, Col Chris Prinsloo and Commandant Stephan Snyders, who were all put on compulsory leave. Louw said that they, together with four civilian members, would be investigated by a board of inquiry into their possible connections to "illegal and/or criminal or unauthorised activities". Another member of the permanent force was still subject to investigations.

"I do not doubt the loyalty of the named officers," said Brig van der Merwe. "The steps taken are unjustified. I believe that the Board of Inquiry set up to investigate the three named officers will find them not guilty of any illegal or criminal activities and that there will be no prosecutions. " According to one source in Military Intelligence, the sudden axing of so many senior officers was having a " terrible effect on the soldiers' morale. They cannot believe what they are seeing " ( The Citizen 30/12192 ). General Kat Liebenburg, Chief of the Defence Forces, Lt-Gen George Meiring, Chief of the Army and Lt-Gen Joffel van der Westhuizen, Chief of Staff, Intelligence, were not affected by the purge, despite their hawkish reputation and their known hostility to the ANC. The decision not to sack them can be seen as an attempt to avoid any rebellion in the Defence Force.

The purge, the biggest in South African Defense Force (SADF) history, followed a series of investigations, inquest hearings and trials in which military intelligence officers were implicated in dirty tricks ranging from blackmail to possible murder. There are already indications that the next ax will fall on middle ranking policemen, especially those involved in the police's counter-insurgency unit. De 'clerk's action against the senior defence force members had raised his credibility internationally and strengthened the government's position at the negotiating table, Constitutional Development Minister Roelf Meyer said in Washington on Dec 22. The purge had been planned in advance and timed to take place during the Christmas break when the army officers were on leave and dispersed around the country, making it difficult for them to organise a coherent counter-response, according to The Weekly Mail (23/12192). It was part of a deal struck with the ANC to allow joint control of the security forces and for MK members to be enrolled in the new national army .

The weekly offers the following indications to support its claim:

The purge of 19 police generals in August (see Roca Report no 45) as part of a drive to bring the police in line with the negotiation process. The Further Indemnity Act pushed through Parliament in August, needed to help ease officers out. The November raid on Military Intelligence's Directorate of Covert Collection in November by Goldstone investigators which provided the pretext for setting up the probe headed by Gen Pierre Steyn. A top-level meeting between senior Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and SADF officials in early August, brokered by the National Intelligence Service, which generally carries out the will of the cabinet. December's "rationalisation " measures which include the retrenchment of 6000 middle ranking officers and their replacement by 6000 volunteers (see Roca Report no 48).

Following the purge, Defence Minister Louw announced a total restructuring of intelligence, indicating that further axing were imminent and opening the way for MK intelligence personnel to be absorbed. The statement by Siphiwe Nyanda, MK Chief of Staff, praising the purge and indicating that it was clearing the way for joint ANC government control of the army. Nelson Mandela's statement, made before the purge, that he envisaged MK officers in SADF command posts in the first half of l993.

Reaction to the purge

De Klerk's acknowledgment that " serious malpractices and activities that undermine organisations and events originates from the security forces confirmed what the ANC had said for a long time," the ANC said on Dec 20.

" There is clearly a third force operating within the security forces and it was exactly because of such a third force that the ANC suspended negotiations in 1991." By describing the steps taken as " clearly only the tip of the iceberg", it indicated that more heads will roll. The ANC has repeatedly called for the dismissal of van der Westhuizen.

"We welcome the steps taken by De Klerk to discipline members of the military implicated in illegal activities," said US State Dept spokesman Richard Boucher. " President-elect Bill Clinton's administration is expected to be less patient with the political mavericks of southern Africa than his predecessor. " Most Western governments shared his views, according to The Weekly Mail (8/1/93) .

" I have never before seen a government destroy its own power base such as this one is doing, " said former chief of Military Intelligence, Gen Tienie Groenewald ( The Weekly Mail 23/12/92) . " while the country is steadily moving towards complete chaos, the government has effectively neutralised the SADF's intelligence capabilities by removing the eyes, ears and nose of its defence forces. "

The SA Air Force retired its fleet of nine C-160 Transal transport aircraft on Jan 8. Already phased out are the Fl fighters, the Canberra bombers, the Buccaneer strike aircraft, the Bosbok and Kudu utility aircraft and the Super Frelon heavy transport helicopters. Before the end of 1995, 28 Mirage F1's aircraft are to go. This will leave only 24 Cheetahs which, military experts say, have almost no air-to-air capability and a limited strike capability, and between 60 and 70 Impala light attack aircraft, in addition to transports and helicopters.

Equipment levels in the SAAF are hopelessly inadequate, according to Helmoed Romer-Heitman, South African correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly. The heavy transport aircraft would scarcely be able to service one battalion of soldiers and the fighter fleet would be hardly be a deterrent. Ground forces would be left without close air support. It could take up to 10 years to get the air force battle ready from its existing levels.

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