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S. African Soldiers Refuse Orders

December 18, 2000

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ South African soldiers refused orders to fire at targets covered in pictures of President Thabo Mbeki and other black government officials, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota ordered an investigation into the incident, which comes amid criticism that the country’s armed forces remains riddled with racism against blacks, the Sowetan Sunday World reported.

The newspaper reported that an instructor at a military shooting range in Pretoria ordered members of the South African National Defense Force’s National Ceremonial Guard to shoot the targets depicting black leaders Tuesday.

The soldiers said they were enraged and refused to shoot.

Capt. Thomas Klaasen, the instructor, was accused of misconduct and resigned Thursday. The defense ministry declined to say whether Klaasen’s resignation was in response to the incident and spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi declined to reveal Klaasen’s race.

Several months ago, a computer image of former President Nelson Mandela turning into a gorilla was found on military computers.

A ministerial committee looking into racism in the military said the defense force had not reformed itself sufficiently since the end of apartheid six years ago and had no clear vision for putting changes in motion.

Though blacks have been appointed to top positions in the defense force, the bulk of officers remain white, Defense Force Chief General Sipiwe Nyanda said in September. The defense force has 80,000 troops.

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