In the frankest submission yet by a National Party politician to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former deputy law and order minister Leon Wessels on Wednesday admitted the former government failed to exercise proper control over its security forces.

This failure had created a present-day dilemma for the TRC - tracing the political source of orders which led to illegal actions being carried out by security force members.

"If we had managed them properly, you would not have to listen to evidence that says (the security forces) believed they acted with authority, and us saying we did not grant that authority," Wessels told a special TRC hearing in Johannesburg.

"The relationship between the security forces and National Party politicians in general was not an open/transparent one and therefore we did not manage the security forces/intelligence services properly," he said.

As deputy law and order minister in the mid-1980s, Wessels said he had the specific responsibility of managing the states of emergency.

He was testifying on the second day of the TRC's special hearinginto theactivties of the now-defunct State Security Council, which advised the government on national security policy.

Wessels said he would not condemn soldiers and policemen who committed violent, unlawful acts.

"I cannot disown them because we were on the same side and fought for the same cause, namely law and order as we saw it, and also to ensure that this country would not be made ungovernable."

On the issue of whether he knew of illegal actions perpetrated by the security forces, he said: "I do not believe the political defence of `I did not know' is available to me because in many respects I believe I did not want to know.

"In my own way I had my suspicions of things that had caused discomfort in official circles, but because I did not have the facts to substantiate my suspicions or I lacked the courage to shout from the rooftops, I have to confess that I only whispered in tclaim not to have known that police were torturing detainees, he said.

The allegations of orture had been reported in the press and raised in Parliament by Progressive Federal Party politicians such as Dr Alex Boraine, now TRC deputy chairman.

"It all happened right under our noses. That is why I don't believe I can stand up and say I did not know."

His statement contradicted the earlier evidence of former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok, who insisted that he never knew his policemen were engaged in the widespread torture of activists.

Vlok said he had been kept in the dark and lied to by senior police officers about illegal actions perpetrated by policemen.

"These things were happening on the ground. How could they be conveyed to me? Only through the two police commissioners (General Johann Coetzee and his successor, General Johan van der Merwe)."

Wessels: "It may be blunt but I have to say it, since the days of the Biko tragedy, right up until the days of the hostel atrocities... the NP did not have an inquiring mind about these matters."

Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko died in detention in 1977 after sustaining head injuries while being interrogated.

Testifying earlier on Wednesday, former NP Cabinet minister Roelf Meyer denied knowledge of any organised attempt or conspiracy by the NP government to kill political opponents.

As a deputy minister of law and order, Meyer chaired the government's National Joint Management Centre, the structure responsibl for co-ordinating counter-revolutionary strategy.

With hindsight, it could be argued that more stringent steps should have been taken to prevent unlawful activities by the security forces, he said.

"If blame is to be attributed to the politicians, it is one of omitting to take more vigilant action when danger signals presented themselves. For such omissions I accept political responsiblity

"During the 1980s we had reached a stage where the climate was such that it was not the in thing to ask questions. Looking back now it is easy to make judgments, to say `how could all this happen?', but it was differen then."

South African Press Association, 1997
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