Last year's downfall of a dictator in Zaire (now Congo) has
ricocheted into South Africa.
Three former military officers of late dictator Mobutu Sese
Seko are trying hard not to be booted out of South Africa, which
once gave them refuge as a way to prevent bloodshed during the
The officers and their families had been living in
Johannesburg's wealthy suburbs since they fled Zaire last May.
In 1993, Kpama Baramoto, former head of Mobutu's civil guard,
had installed his wife and seven children in two adjacent mansions
in the millionaire suburb of Wendywood.
This week, Mr. Baramoto, Zaire's former Defense Minister
Mudima Mavuatake, and Ngbale Nzimbi, the head of Mobutu's
presidential guard took Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi
The three want an order forcing Mr. Buthelezi to keep his
"undertaking" that they may stay in South Africa. Buthelezi, for
his part, admits he treated the generals with respect but denies he
made any promises. More recently, he has repeatedly tried to have
them deported to Congo.
The officers' sojourn in South Africa has become perhaps the
single most important factor affecting relations between the
governments of President Nelson Mandela and President Laurent
Kabila, who ousted Mobutu last May.
Planning an insurrection?
Mr. Kabila has demanded the generals' return, claiming they
stole tens of millions of dollars from state coffers, funds he says
they are using to prepare for an insurrection. Other states in the
region back this demand, fearing instability in what is now Congo
could affect them as well.
When Mobutu's regime collapsed in May, President Nelson
Mandela was attempting to engineer a "soft landing" for Kabila. His
initiative, backed by the United States and the United Nations, was
based on the argument that Kabila would seize power anyway and a
negotiated transfer was preferable to a battle for the capital. In
the end, little came of the settlement, but Mobutu's troops put up
no more than token resistance.
An affidavit prepared for the High Court by the police
minister tells for the first time how Mandela's government, backed
by other states in the region, felt that allowing Mobutu's top
officers refuge in South Africa would increase the chances of the
The affidavit continues: "In ... 1997, my Cabinet colleagues
and I received reports from our intelligence personnel that the
three applicants were involved in activities which were aimed at
Human rights quandary
Should Buthelezi win the right to deport the generals, a
human rights quandary still awaits: South Africa's Constitution
outlaws the death penalty, but execution may well be what the
generals face back home. …