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11 Charged for Alleged Roles in 1987 South African Massacre

By Bob Drogin
Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

In a surprise move that sparked fears of a violent right-wing backlash, the government has announced plans to file murder charges against a prominent apartheid-era defense minister and 10 former top-ranking military officers for their alleged roles in a 1987 massacre.

Magnus Malan, who served as defense minister from 1980 to 1991 and who led the white-ruled regime's brutal "total onslaught" strategy against its foes, is the highest-ranking member of the former government to be charged with politically inspired crimes by Nelson Mandela's democratic administration.

Sydney Mufamadi, minister of safety and security, told a news conference Sunday night that Malan and his 10 former aides will be arrested and arraigned in Durban on Thursday for allegedly authorizing a death squad that killed a priest and 12 women and children as they lay sleeping in a Zulu township on Jan. 21, 1987.

The impending arrest of some of the most powerful and feared figures of the still-raw recent past was bitterly denounced by right-wing leaders and members of the former government, including the last white president, Frederik W. de Klerk.

"Selective prosecutions are totally unacceptable," De Klerk, now deputy president under Mandela, said in a statement. He warned that the case could have "far-reaching repercussions for national reconciliation."

De Klerk said he had asked Mandela to grant temporary amnesty to the group, and to anyone else facing charges of or under investigation for political crimes, until they can apply for full amnesty by testifying before a proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Parliament has authorized the controversial panel, but Mandela has yet to name its members.

The 11 men form a virtual Who's Who of top military brass during the most vicious period of the apartheid years. The crackdown by the white supremacist regime against black liberation movements and their communist allies, especially in the mid-1980s, led to a campaign of murder, torture and other human rights abuses.

In addition to Malan, those to be charged include former South African defense force chief Gen. Jannie Geldenhuys, former army chief Gen. Kat Liebenberg and former military intelligence director Gen. Tienie Groenewald. The others named were all senior intelligence or operations officers.