Former South African defence minister Magnus Malan, who militarised the country to battle a perceived “total onslaught” on the apartheid regime, died Monday at age 81, his family said.
“General Magnus Malan died peacefully early this morning at home. He leaves his wife of 49 years behind as well as three children and nine grandchildren,” his family said in a statement, according to the Sapa news agency.
During his tenure as head of the armed forces and later, defence minister, South Africa’s military expanded in a bid to suppress the liberation struggle against white rule, and stretched its tentacles across borders to combat communist-aligned parties ruling newly independent states.
Malan viewed domestic and foreign threats to South Africa as a “total onslaught” against the white-minority regime that could only be answered with a “total solution”.
Malan and his “securocrats” in the police and army had free reign to deploy troops in South Africa’s townships to violently repress anti-government riots in the 1980s, leading to the declaration of a state of emergency in 1986.
He also deployed troops on bloody raids against African National Congress bases in neighbouring countries, and on a protracted deployment in Angola to fight with rebels against Cuban troops aligned with the government in Luanda.
Malan was born in Pretoria on January 30, 1930. He became head of the apartheid government’s Defence Force in 1976, and then served as defense minister from 1980 to 1991.
In 1988, he participated in talks that led to Namibia’s independence and the withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from Angola.
That turned out to be the high point of his career. In 1990, he was accused of involvement in deadly paramilitary operations in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.
After it emerged that the apartheid regime had financed the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, Malan was shifted from the defence to the forestry ministry, presaging his eventual retirement.
Once apartheid ended, he and 19 other top military brass were charged in 1995 with murder and for creating hit squads to destablise the country, and specifically with the 1987 massacre of 13 people in KwaZulu’s Kwamakutha township.
He vehemently denied the charges, which were among the highest-profile attempts to prosecute apartheid-era atrocities.
After a seven-month trial, all 20 were cleared of the charges in a verdict that found the apartheid government had paid Inkatha vigilantes for the killings, but ruled the prosecution had not proved the link to Malan.