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Former Police General Implicates Apartheid Leaders

October 21, 1996

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ In the first direct testimony implicating former Cabinet ministers, a retired security police chief charged Monday that officials at the highest levels of the apartheid government planned and sanctioned attacks on its opponents.

It was the first testimony in which top police officials from the former white government confessed to crimes against anti-apartheid groups without first being tried and convicted in court.

Before Monday, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had mostly heard the accounts of victims of apartheid crimes while alleged perpetrators remained mostly reticent.

But that changed with testimony from former Police Commissioner Gen. Johan van der Merwe, who implicated South Africa’s former president and two apartheid Cabinet ministers in bombings against government foes in the 1980s.

The revelations came at an amnesty hearing for five former police officials who had confessed to a total of 40 murders. The officers, including a police brigadier, were the highest-ranking to seek amnesty so far.

``The flood wall is broken,″ said commission member Alex Boraine.

Testifying on behalf of his five former subordinates, van der Merwe said former Police Minister Louis Le Grange approved a plan to supply defective hand grenades to anti-apartheid activists planning attacks on black policemen. He said the booby-trapped devices ``killed and injured″ a number of activists.

Van der Merwe also said former Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok ordered him in 1988 to plan the bombing of a Johannesburg building that housed a black labor group allied with the African National Congress party.

``According to Mr. Vlok, this instruction had come from President P.W. Botha personally,″ van der Merwe. The explosion extensively damaged the building but caused no injuries.

Van der Merwe’s statements reinforced claims that brutal repression of opposition groups _ including murders and torture _ were planned and sanctioned at the highest levels of the former white government.

The testimony also represented a victory for the commission, which has been forced to subpoena some military and police officials to get them to appear.

The five security police officers seeking amnesty have confessed to 40 murders in the 1980s, at the height of what they called a war against anti-apartheid groups. They decided to apply after a former police colonel was convicted of six murders and 83 other charges last month.

Van der Merwe said after Monday’s hearing he also would apply for amnesty and that he believed Vlok and other top apartheid officials would be forced to do the same.

The five amnesty applicants said they doubted former President F.W. de Klerk told the truth when he said he had no knowledge of murders and others rights abuses committed by his government.

De Klerk’s National Party government, which imposed and then dismantled apartheid, fell out of power in the nation’s first all-race elections in 1994.

The Truth Commission was formed after that election by President Nelson Mandela’s government. It can grant amnesty to people who fully confess their crimes and prove they were politically motivated.

``We at all times believed we were acting within the cause and scope of our duties,″ the five amnesty applicants said. ``We have decided to come forward in the trust of the new government and the Truth Commission in particular. ... The time for hatred is past. It is time for truth. It is time for confession.″

The most senior of the five is Brig. Jack Cronje, former head of the notorious Vlakplaas unit that acted as a government hit squad. The others are Capt. Jacques Hechter, Warrant Officer Paul van Vuuren, Capt. Wouter Mentz and Col. Roelf Venter.

Cronje and Hechter appeared in court in Pretoria on Friday on 27 murder charges and were released on $225 bail.

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