South African Military Is Seen as Potential Threat to Negotiations Defense Force Resists Civilian Control, Prospect of Multiracial Rule

By John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 1992 | Go to article overview

South African Military Is Seen as Potential Threat to Negotiations Defense Force Resists Civilian Control, Prospect of Multiracial Rule


John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE reluctance of the South African Defense Force to submit to multiparty control under a multiracial interim government could delay negotiations in South Africa, military analysts say.

Though dismissing recent rumors of the possibility of a military coup, these analysts concede there is a widening communication and credibility gap between President Frederik de Klerk's government and military leaders.

"The military is completely unprepared for joint control or anything approaching that," says a former Army officer now in the private sector.

"There is a significant group of generals who do not believe the current political initiative is going to work {and} are quite simply not part of the process," the former Army officer adds.

This credibility gap could undermine efforts to restructure the South African Defense Force (SADF), says the former SADF officer.

In an unusual move last week, Defense Minister Roelf Meyer joined the official government spokesman at the weekly news briefing of the interracial negotiating forum debating South Africa's future political structure - the Convention for a Democratic South Africa - to sound a warning about future control of the military.

"We will not accept any form of unconstitutional control over the security forces," Mr. Meyer told a Feb. 26 news conference. He added that there still appeared to be "unconstitutional structures" in the African National Congress's proposals for an interim government.

A government official, speaking anonymously, said Meyer's warning was a veiled message for the African National Congress that there could be no deal on an interim government until the ANC handed in weapons and abandoned "armed struggle."

The ANC on Feb. 24 offered detailed proposals for a phased transition to majority rule. The first phase involves setting up a multiparty interim government council and four multiparty committees to oversee the security forces, foreign affairs, the budget, and local government.

The authoritative British journal Africa Confidential reported last week that the alienation of senior SADF officers was a threat to the negotiating process. The journal said Meyer, President De Klerk's choice as defense minister last year, has failed to win the confidence of the generals.

De Klerk, who has no power base in the security forces, has drastically curbed the military's influence in the past two years by scrapping a military-led national internal-security system, ordering large military-spending cuts, halving the period of national service, tightening control over covert funds, and privatizing the state armaments wing. …

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