In Dispute, Mandela Calls De Klerk ‘a Joke’ : South Africa: The black president and his white deputy disagree on the scope of legal exemption for possible apartheid-era crimes.

<i> From Reuters</i>

President Nelson Mandela described his white deputy, Frederik W. de Klerk, as “a joke” Saturday in a clash over legal indemnity for actions during South Africa’s conflict over apartheid.

De Klerk, referring to charges of murdering women and children brought against former Defense Minister Gen. Magnus Malan this month, told a party congress in Pretoria that, if Malan was to be charged, then the present black defense minister, Joe Modise, should also be investigated.

“We insist on evenhandedness in dealing with the past,” De Klerk said.

“Mr. De Klerk is becoming a joke, and the tragedy is that he is making jokes out of very serious matters,” Mandela told reporters in reaction to comments by De Klerk at the provincial congress of his National Party earlier in the day.


“I am the president of this country. I will decide who gets indemnity, not he,” Mandela, who spent 27 years as a political prisoner, said.

Malan is the most senior of 10 former officers charged with the 1987 murder of 13 African National Congress sympathizers in KwaZulu-Natal province. He is expected to go on trial early next year.

De Klerk dismissed Malan and former Police Minister Adriaan Vlok in 1992 at the insistence of Mandela’s ANC, which accused them of running dirty-tricks operations against black opposition movements.

In a rare meeting this week, De Klerk’s hard-line predecessor, P. W. Botha, warned Mandela of a right-wing backlash if the indemnity issue was not handled sensitively.

In a separate speech Saturday, Mandela rejected warnings of a backlash.

“We warn those who threaten violence and mayhem should the trial of certain members of the previous government continue that the majority of South Africans stand firmly behind the current processes of the law,” Mandela said at the funeral of a relative of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko. Biko died in police custody during apartheid.

De Klerk told the party congress that, during negotiations leading to the scrapping of apartheid and the holding of all-race elections in April of last year, about 117 ANC members had been granted temporary indemnity to allow them to participate in the talks. Seventy of them are still protected.

“In respect of these people, there were certain investigations being carried out. These were suspended when temporary immunity was granted. If there is to be evenhandedness, this temporary indemnity must be withdrawn, dockets taken off the shelves and a special task force must investigate matters.

“If evidence is found, these people must be brought to court,” De Klerk said, citing Modise, who was commander of the ANC’s armed wing, and his Communist deputy, Ronnie Kasrils.