Magnus Malan And His Crimes Against Humanity in Africa

General Magnus Malan, the chief architect of the total onslaught of the apartheid military, passed away on 18 July 2011.

This total onslaught strategy was the idea that South Africa was threatened by a communist conspiracy and that the South African apartheid state must respond with economic, political, ideological, psychological and military tools to defend capitalism and white supremacy.

Malan was minister of defence for 11 years, 1980-1991, and it was under his tenure that the apartheid war machine spread death and destruction across Africa. Under his tenure as minister of defence this illegal state decided to weaponise biology. The results are still being felt across Africa today with the ramifications of the biological warfare project that was called Project Coast. Malan’s life and death should remind young people that the fight for freedom must be protracted and that the economic, military and political defeat of apartheid is still a task to be completed. Africans may occupy positions of political power in South Africa but the economic legacies of apartheid are very much flourishing.

Internationally, the crimes of the Nazis are condemned. German society no longer celebrates Hitler and the Nazis as great leaders, but in South Africa the publishing houses and think-tanks that were nourished and financed by Magnus Malan thrive and distort history. Many of these think-tanks have changed their names, but not their basic philosophy. Yet the people of South Africa have tried to transcend the ideation system of revenge and bitterness. The people have attempted to draw on the principles of Ubuntu.

Hiding behind the new philosophy of Ubuntu, the war criminals of South Africa have sought to rehabilitate themselves as servants of the South African state and as fighters against communism. The central place of the military in the processes of accumulation and enrichment has been taken over by sections of the African National Congress (ANC). Younger South Africans must work harder to completely understand the real consequences of apartheid and to remember that one cannot dismantle the system with the same ideas that built a system.


Magnus Malan was born into white privilege in South Africa in 1930 when the ideas of Hitler and white supremacy had not yet taken over the leadership of the organisation that was to later become the National Party. By the end of the Second World War, the National Party had completely absorbed the ideas and principles of Nazism and codified these ideas into a series of laws and forms of organising society that still cripple South Africa to this day. Operating through a secretive organisation called the Afrikaner Broederbond, some of the adherents of the National Party had been interned during Second World War because of their overt support for Adolf Hitler and the ideas of the Nazis.

This National Party came to power in 1948 and through the period 1948 to 1990 this party articulated a set of principles entrenching white minority rule. Apartheid as a doctrine codified and structured life in society with brutal force and super-exploitation. Malan was born in the period when the administrative system had relegated blacks to ‘reserves’, but the demand for labour brought Africans into the urban areas where they were dumped into marginal and police-controlled areas called townships. Malan matured within the secret order of the Afrikaner Broederbond and became one of the principal thinkers for the military plans for the next three decades.

This system of apartheid controlled every aspect of the lives of Africans and other oppressed peoples called ‘Coloured.’ Masters and servants ordinances and the passed laws defined the position of Africans and regulated their freedom of movement. The Group Areas Act, the Native Land Act, the Population Registration Act, the Reservation and Separate Amenities Act and the Suppression of Communism Act were all part of the legal basis for the consolidation of the South African form of Nazism that was called apartheid. When Africans opposed these draconian measures they were shot down in the streets, with the Sharpeville Massacre of 1961 standing as one of the more notorious actions of this militarised society.

Malan joined the military after graduating from the University of Pretoria and was sent to the United States to train over the period 1962-1963. It was during this time that Magnus Malan strengthened ties with conservative and racist military forces within the US military establishment. After rising through the ranks of the apartheid military, Malan was promoted to becoming chief of the army in 1973-1976 and chief of the defence forces in 1976-1980. He was appointed as minister of defence in 1980 and served in this position until 1991.Those US military personnel who want to establish relations with Africa would do well to research and expose the linkages of Malan to the US military establishment so that the present generation would be aware of the collaboration between the US military and apartheid.


Despite the efforts to crush the resistance of the people, the organised and spontaneous opposition to apartheid galvanised an international movement. Malan fancied himself as a military intellectual who had studied the campaigns of France in Algeria and the British in Kenya and Malaysia. After the independence of Angola and Mozambique in 1975 and the massive uprisings of Soweto in 1976, Malan and the thinkers of the apartheid state came up with the military doctrine of ‘total strategy’. This strategy was supposed to be the apartheid regime’s response to what it perceived as a multi-dimensional ‘total onslaught’ against the South African state.

To carry forward this strategy the military became central to the reproduction of state power. This was reflected not only in the links between the military and industry, epitomised in the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR), but also in the militarisation of the state and society. Under Magnus Malan and Prime Minister P.W. Botha, the management techniques of the South African Defence Forces were harnessed to militarise every aspect of life. Total Strategy meant that the apartheid state mobilised economic, military, political, medical, information, cultural and psychological tools to preserve capitalism and white supremacy. Malan was at the top of an aggressive state organised under a National Security Management System (NSMS). An inner war cabinet called the State Security Council linked the military to local administrative structures through joint management committees and a decentralised system of ‘security management’ at all levels.

This Total Strategy received a boost after the election of Margaret Thatcher in Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1980. Through a series of meetings with William Casey of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the USA, there was a decision to intensify the wars against the peoples of South Africa and the region as a whole. The long-term plans of the South African State Security Council merged well with the anti-communist policies of the Reagan administration. The United States supported apartheid and acted as a buffer for apartheid when the United Nations wanted to impose stricter sanctions.

It was in this period when intellectuals such as Chester Crocker (who was by then the assistant secretary of state for African affairs) became international spokespersons for the defence of apartheid on the grounds that the South African state was in the frontline struggle against communism. The liberation movements of South Africa were labelled as terrorist organisations and Nelson Mandela was kept in jail as the number-one terrorist.


The local struggles against apartheid inspired an international movement and in this struggle the South African apartheid state became isolated in the court of international public opinion. In 1973 the General Assembly of the United Nations had under the Apartheid Convention declared that apartheid was a crime against humanity and that ‘inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination’ were international crimes (art. 1).

Article 2 defined the crime of apartheid – ‘which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa’ – as covering ‘inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them’. It then listed the acts that fell within the ambit of the crime. These included murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest of members of a racial group; deliberate imposition on a racial group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction; legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields; measures that divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate residential areas for racial groups; the prohibition of interracial marriages; and the persecution of persons opposed to apartheid.
International criminal responsibility was to apply to individuals, members of organisations and representatives of the state who commit, incited or conspired to commit the crime of apartheid.

This position was again stated explicitly at the Second World Conference against Racism in Geneva in 1983.

Under this UN convention Malan qualified as a war criminal for the systematic oppression that had been meted out against the peoples of South Africa and the region as a whole. Yet if South Africa faced diplomatic isolation with the support of the US military and intelligence the South Africans’ military created proxy armies such as the MNR (Mozambique National Resistance) in Mozambique and supported ‘leaders’ such as Jonas Savimbi in Angola.

It was during the tenure of Magnus Malan that the South African armed forces, like swarms of locusts, left death and destruction in their wake. It was estimated by UN sources that by the end of apartheid over $80 billion dollars’ worth of destruction and economic damage had been wreaked across the region of Southern Africa. Over two million persons were killed, maimed, displaced or made refugees as the SADF (South African Defence Force) fought across the breadth of southern Africa. In Angola, the SADF fought both a conventional and irregular war (justified in the West as a fight against a Soviet/Cuban threat to Western strategic resources) and in Namibia the South Africans deployed over 100,000 troops to fight a counter-insurgency war against the South West African Peoples’ Organisation (SWAPO of Namibia). In Mozambique the South Africans organised a war to destabilise Frelimo and in the other front-line states the South African regime carried out economic sabotage.

Despite this ‘total strategy’ the military failed to crush the rebellion of the South African masses at their places of work, in the townships and in schools. The resistance of the people took numerous forms and this resistance inspired a large international movement. Magnus Malan deployed troops in the urban townships and unleashed permanent terror against the African poor.

The South African armed forces attempted to impose Jonas Savimbi on Angola and launched a three-phase operation called ‘Modular, Hooper and Packer’ to destroy Angola. This military invasion was stopped at Cuito Cuanavale and the South Africans were decisively defeated. Despite this defeat the propaganda and psychological warfare of the apartheid state had been so entrenched that it was difficult to sell to the white supremacists the idea that the whites were defeated in battle by an African army. After the overthrow of overt apartheid, Malan wrote his own memoirs of this battle, claiming that the South African state won at Cuito Cuanavale. This was published in his memoirs, ‘Magnus Malan: My Life with the South African Defence Forces’.


Before the independence of Zimbabwe, the South Africans and the Rhodesian military developed a weaponised form of anthrax that it deployed against the African people. It was under the leadership of Magnus Malan as minister of defence where the dreaded Project Coast was initiated. We now know some of the criminal actions that were carried out from the testimonies at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Malan and P.W. Botha recruited Dr Wouter Basson to coordinate an offensive chemical and biological warfare (CBW) programme. Basson under Malan ran the CBW program during the 1980s and early 1990s in a desperate effort to save this system of oppression. Testimonies before the TRC highlighted the fact that this Project Coast, “developed lethal chemical and biological weapons that targeted ANC political leaders and their supporters as well as populations living in the black townships. These weapons included an infertility toxin to secretly sterilize the black population; skin-absorbing poisons that could be applied to the clothing of targets; and poison concealed in products such as chocolates and cigarettes.”

‘… released cholera strains into water sources of certain South African villages and provided anthrax and cholera to the government troops of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the late 1970s to use against the rebel soldiers in the guerrilla war.’

In the book ‘Medical Apartheid’, Harriet Washington summed up the extent of this grand plan to weaponise biology. She wrote that in response to the massive anti-apartheid struggles:

‘apartheid politicians and scientists funded research and development of exotic biological and chemical weapons for use against the black majority so that the power of weaponized biological might help the white minority to destroy its opponents without firing a shot.’

Project Coast researched the development of deadly bacteria that would only affect blacks.

With many of the books and articles on these bizarre criminal acts focusing on Wouter Basson – who was the lead scientist of Project Coast – not enough attention has been placed on Magnus Malan, who was the minister of defence and responsible for the massive funds that were disbursed for these biological warfare programmes. The manufacture of illicit drugs, money laundering and the establishment of front companies on offshore sites were all perfected under Magnus Malan. At the international level, the relationships between the work of Magnus Malan, Wouter Basson and biological warfare experts in the USA needs to be placed in the public domain. It is known that William Casey enjoyed a very close and cosy relationship with Magnus Malan and that through their networks Wouter Basson worked closely with US scientists.


It was an ironic historical twist that Magnus Malan passed away on the birthday of Nelson Mandela on 18 July 2011. It was under Malan that the biological warfare experts had contemplated how to infect Mandela and other incarcerated leaders with toxins so that they would die shortly after being released from prison and it would appear that they died from cancer.

Even after the release of Mandela when it was clear that apartheid was on its last legs, Malan was still organising death squads and fomenting violence to make the wars seem as black-on-black violence. As minister of defence, Malan was responsible for paramilitary death squads (called the Civil Cooperation Bureau) that operated against civilians in the East Rand townships. Malan organised the financing of the Inkatha thugs who were the instruments if state terror.

Malan was finally removed from his position as minister of defence in 1991 and moved to the Department of Water Affairs. On 2 November 1995 Malan was charged together with other former senior military officers for murdering 13 people (including seven children) in the KwaMakhutha massacre in 1987. After a trial lasting seven months he was acquitted. His actuarial and that of Wouter Basson were striking examples of how the current political leaders were compromised and failed to do the kind of political and information work that would establish the criminal past of these white supremacists.

Ubuntu and the ideas of forgiveness are important principles, but while embracing the principles of Ubuntu, Africans cannot forget because the legacies and consequences of the weaponisation of biology are still being felt across Africa. More important is the reality that the ANC has refused to do the kind of educational work that would teach the younger generation about the realities of apartheid.

The government of the African National Congress integrated itself into the institutions of the apartheid state. One component of this integration is the continued use of the military and weapons procurement as a field for enrichment by political and military leaders. DENEL, the successor to ARMSCOR, has been at the centre of allegations of massive bribery, kickbacks and corruption.


Currently the history of apartheid is being contested at every level and the passing of Malan has afforded one other opportunity for white supremacists “conservative forces” to represent Malan as a ‘military strategist’ who was a technocrat. Throughout the Western world in the obituaries about his passing there was no mention of the criminal actions, especially the weaponisation of biology. It was very painful to interact with younger South Africans who do not know the history of the crimes of white supremacy and capitalism in South Africa. These youths are in institutions of higher learning where the ideas of free-market capitalism and white supremacy are taught as gospel.

Some of the leaders of the liberation movement have forgotten the sacrifices of the people and now send their children to the schools where the ideas of Magnus Malan are celebrated. These same leaders live in gated communities and for them apartheid is over because they have inherited the structures that were built by Hendrik Verwoerd, John Vorster, Magnus Malan and P.W. Botha. The social questions of apartheid are evident in every sphere of life in contemporary South Africa. Whether in the context of the health services, the educational system, housing, transportation or access to water and electricity, the poor and oppressed in South Africa are still struggling to dismantle apartheid.

These struggles now manifest in massive confrontations over ‘service delivery’. To blunt these struggles some leaders support xenophobia and hostility towards other Africans in order to maintain the black empowerment clique in the business of making money from tenders. The passing of Magnus Malan offers one other occasion for a summing-up of the crimes against humanity that were committed so that the society can heal itself from these crimes. On the day Magnus Malan met his maker the people of South Africa were called upon to exhibit kindness. Nelson Mandela called on the people to commit to 67 minutes’ worth of kindness in honour of the 67 years that Mandela worked for freedom in South Africa, from 1942 until his retirement from public life in 2009. We join in the celebration of the 93rd birthday of Nelson Mandela while calling on the next generation to grasp the need to transform the society beyond the traditions of Magnus Malan.