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S. Africa Crushes Tribal Homeland Coup

February 11, 1988|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — An attempted military takeover of Bophuthatswana, one of South Africa's nominally independent tribal homelands, was crushed quickly Wednesday when South Africa sent in its own troops to rescue the president and restore his government to power.

Backed by hundreds of heavily armed troops in armored cars and helicopter gunships, South African police commandos stormed a sports stadium at Mmabatho, the homeland capital, to free President Lucas Mangope and other Bophuthatswana officials held there since the pre-dawn coup by army officers who accused the government of corruption and election fraud.

At least four people were killed in clashes through the day, including a Bophuthatswana soldier shot to death during the South African rescue effort. Several others, including a senior South African security official working for the Bophuthatswana government, were wounded.

When order was restored Wednesday night, President Pieter W. Botha and three of his top ministers flew to Mmabatho, about 200 miles west of Pretoria, to demonstrate South Africa's support for Mangope--and to warn that the Pretoria government would not tolerate further political violence.

"The South African government is opposed in principle to obtaining political power by violence," Botha told Parliament here Wednesday as he announced the intervention.

South Africa's state security council had met through the morning, Botha said, and had decided to respond to an appeal from several Bophuthatswana ministers for help because their government had been legally elected and was recognized by Pretoria.

Jubilant over the success of the operation, Botha warmly congratulated the South African police and troops after meeting with Mangope for 90 minutes Wednesday night at the heavily guarded South African Embassy in Mmabatho.

Relatively Prosperous

The events in Bophuthatswana, long regarded as the model homeland because of its political stability and relative prosperity, nonetheless clearly embarrassed Botha. His critics on the left again ridiculed the controversial homelands, which only South Africa recognizes, and those on the right questioned his ability to govern since Pretoria was caught unaware by the coup attempt.

The military in Transkei, another of the four nominally independent homelands, ousted two governments last year, accusing each of massive corruption. South Africa did not intervene in either coup and formally recognized the latest government there. The other two homelands are Ciskei and Venda.

"Everything is now under control, but we are still busy mopping up," Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, the South African foreign minister, said before leaving Cape Town for Mmabatho with President Botha, Gen. Magnus Malan, the defense minister, and Adriaan Vlok, the minister of law and order.

"South African military and police personnel moved in at the request of the Bophuthatswana government--a government that we recognize, a government with whom we have agreements. They exercised their right to ask our assistance, and it was rendered."

After the South African troops, commanded by Gen. Jan Geldenhuys, chief of Pretoria's defense forces, had restored order in Mmabatho and gained control of the homeland's radio and television stations and government offices, they began rounding up members of the opposition Progressive People's Party, which the Bophuthatswana military had intended to install in power.

The rebel military officers had said in a statement: "We the defense forces and the children of the Republic of Bophuthatswana have been compelled by circumstances to remove from the office of the government the leader of the Bophuthatswana Democratic Party." They went on to accuse Mangope and his supporters of widespread corruption and fraud in the parliamentary election last October.

In a statement broadcast on Bophuthatswana radio at dawn Wednesday, the military questioned Mangope's relationship with an Israeli businessman who profited enormously from construction contracts in the homeland, who represented Mangope's government in Israel--and who has been accused of a $3-million fraud in the United States and is now being held by Israeli security as a suspected agent for the Soviet Union.

"For such reasons, we the defense forces of the Republic of Bophuthatswana have decided to seize ruling powers from the Bophuthatswana Democratic Party government and to entrust such powers to the leadership of the People's Progressive Party," the statement said.

The People's Progressive Party, which won six seats in the homeland's Parliament in October against the 66 won by Mangope's National Democratic Party, was praised in the military statement for "openly and strongly denouncing corruption and the erosion of fundamental human rights and the dignity of citizens."

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