A former defense minister is to be charged with 13 political murders in a case that will force South Africa to confront the bloody excesses of the apartheid era.
Magnus Malan, South Africa’s hard-line defense minister during the turbulent 1980s, will be the most senior political figure ever brought to court to answer accusations that white rightists went to desperate lengths to hold on to power.
The planned charges were announced Sunday by Police Minister Sydney Mufamadi. He said Malan and other former leaders are accused of setting up hit squads run by the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, a bitter rival of the ruling African National Congress, Mufamadi said.
White rightists, especially those still in the security forces, could see moves against Malan as the beginning of a long-feared witch hunt by the ANC-led government.
Malan had been implicated in a 1987 case that resulted in murder charges earlier this year against several high-ranking security officers, Provincial Attorney General Tim McNally said.
“Gen. Malan is being added as an accused in that case, on the same charges,” McNally told The Associated Press. An arrest warrant had been issued, and Malan was expected to appear in court in Durban on Thursday.
McNally refused to confirm newspaper reports that 10 other new arrest warrants also had been issued in the case.
Malan told the Sunday newspaper Rapport that he believed plans to arrest him were politically motivated. Reports of his impending arrest could hurt his National Party in local elections scheduled Wednesday.
The National Party administered apartheid for four decades until South Africa’s first allrace elections in April 1994 brought the African National Congress to power.
Court papers listed Malan as a possible witness against security officers charged with the 1987 killings of 13 relatives of a pro-ANC activist - including six children under age 11 - in what was then Natal Province.
The region, which was merged with the former KwaZulu black homeland when apartheid ended last year, has been a battleground for the ANC and its main black rival, the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.
A special investigation into political killings was launched after an independent judicial commission accused South African police last year of training Inkatha assassination squads and of arming the party to destabilize the black opposition to apartheid.
Malan, a career military man who was chief of the nation’s defense forces in the 1970s, joined the National Party after being named minister of defense in 1980. The government at the time was bracing for what it called a “total onslaught” by anti-apartheid forces.
As defense minister, Malan sent in troops to back up police in the townships, where unrest was at its height. Malan took a hard line on the ANC, which he saw as a Communist front with no political future in South Africa.