South African Court Told of Plot for Coup and Ouster of Blacks

NY Times/October 30, 2003
By Michael Wines

Ohannesburg, -- A white extremist sect plotted in 2001 to overthrow South Africa's government, assassinate its former president, Nelson Mandela, and march more than 35 million blacks and other nonwhites into exile along two superhighways, prosecutors said in a Pretoria court on Wednesday.

A police informant described the bizarre plan during the first day of testimony in the trial of 22 members of the extremist group, called the Boeremag, on charges that include treason, murder and terrorism. The case is the first treason trial since South Africa dismantled its white-ruled apartheid system in 1994.

The 22 defendants were arrested last October after bombings in the black Johannesburg suburb of Soweto and at a Buddhist temple in Pretoria, the capital, left one person dead. The police then identified them as members of the Boeremag, a band of right-wing Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch settlers who first colonized South Africa and who ran the country during its final years of white rule.

Boeremag is Afrikaans for "Boer Force."

In daylong testimony under heavy security, the police informant, Johannes C. Smit, offered a detailed description of the plan, under which 8,000 rebels would stage a coup and seize military bases.

Mr. Smit, who said he also had belonged to an Afrikaaner paramilitary group before being recruited by the police, testified under a pledge of immunity from prosecution. He said he had learned of the coup plan, known as Document 12, from the Boeremag leader, Mike Du Toit, in June 2001.

As described by Mr. Smit, the grandiose plot envisioned recruiting a shadow army of commandos within the South African National Defense Force, the national military, and financing the coup through robberies of armored cars. The plotters were said to have approached several former military and police officials for help and had identified a handful of military bases as targets for takeover.

As the force was assembled, he said, the plotters intended to assassinate key figures in South Africa's elected black government, beginning with a bomb attack on a car carrying Mr. Mandela to a public appearance. Prosecutors have said that the bomb plot collapsed when Mr. Mandela changed travel plans, taking a helicopter instead.

In the plot's final stages, the commandos would have sabotaged SABC, the publicly funded national broadcasting network, and seized fuel depots and the South Africa mint, which was to be converted from striking coins to producing weapons.

All that, however, was but a buildup to the coup's ultimate goal: to drive South Africa's 35 million blacks and more than a million citizens of Indian descent permanently from the country. To that end, Mr. Smit testified, Mr. Du Toit proposed that blacks be forced north along the N1 freeway from Johannesburg into Zimbabwe, and that Indian-descent citizens be marched along the N3 route to the country's east coast, for deportation by ship to India.

"Blacks and Indians who resisted the Boeremag's repatriation efforts would have been summarily shot," Mr. Smit was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

Although the defendants are accused of bombings, robberies and illegal weapons possession, among dozens of other charges, there has been little evidence that the coup plans ever neared fruition.

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