misuse of government power and funds use of government power and funds today exonerated the country's President John Vorster and his successor as prime minister, Pieter W. Botha.
But the report fixed blame on former black affairs and information minister Cornelius P. Mulder for the wrongdoing of his subordinates, leading to the worst political scandal ever to assail South Africa's all-white ruling National Party.
The probe confirms details of the scandal that have emerged over the past year, including secret funding of a progovernment newspaper, efforts to take over the opposition press, illegal raising of foreign loans, financing of personal trips to resort islands and the purchase of private real estate with government money.
The report, named after Judge Rudolph Erasmus, who headed the commission that drew it up, marks the first official government response to the scandal. By accusing Mulder of carrying out his ministerial duties "incompetently," it raises doubt whether he can continue his political career, already clouded by the loss of both his ministerial posts in the last six months.
Mulder's former secretary of information, Eschel Rhoodie, and his brother, Denys Rhoodie, are accused of financial "irregularities" that the Erasmus report recommends should be investigated by the attorney general for possible criminal prosecution. The government already has withdrawn the passports of both men.
Among other things, Eschel Rhoodie is accused of destroying government documents "pointing to fraud and theft," according to the report. Rhoodie's mismanagement of secret government funds is made apparent by the report's confirmation that he financed a proapartheid Englishlanguage newspaper here called The Citizen with $36 million in government money that has not been recovered by the state.
The report will be debated at a special emergency session of parliament on Thursday, the first of its kind in 40 years. The National Party is expected to characterize the probe as an honest attempt to reveal the scandal to put an end to attacks on the government and the National Party by opposition parties and the press.
The initial response to the report within the party, therefore, is likely to be a closing of ranks. Mulder set this tone tonight by announcing that he will not participate in the debate in parliament or within the party because it "might affect the harmony in the party."
But in the long run, the report will no doubt aggravate an already bitter conflict between two factions within the party caused by ideological and personal differences. Botha and Mulder are nominal leaders of those two camps.
Mulder said tonight he "did not agree unqualifiedly with all the findings of the commission" and that his conscience is clear since all the decisions he took were "in the interests of the country."
The findings released today repeat earlier testimony by other government officials that Michigan publisher John McGoff was invited at one time to act as a front owner for The Citizen. McGoff consulted two South African officials "on the desirability of doing so, but both advised him against it," the report said. "McGoff however, was in any case only interested if he could acquire more than 50 percent of the shares in The Citizen," it added.
The Erasmus commission did not make any mention of a report of a $11.5 million loan to McGoff by the Information Department to help in his bid for The Washington Star newspaper. This report was printed in The Rand Daily Mail last month, based on what were said to be "unimpeachable sources." The commission, however, is continuing to probe the dealings of the Information Department and some observers believe they will investigate this allegation eventually.
At the time of the reports on his consideration of the Citizen deal, McGoff denied he ever wanted to buy it. He also denied the subsequent loan report and called The Rand Daily Mail story on it "utterly false" and "wantonly crude."
[Jerry Schiappa, a McGoff spokesman in Michigan contacted Tuesday night in an effort to elicit comment on the Erasmus commission findings, said only: "I am not interested in talking to you."]
The report said Botha, then minister of defense, never was aware of irregularities in the secret funds and it concluded, "His hands are clean in every respect and his integrity remains unblemished for his great task as prime minister."
Vorster's testimony on how much he knew about the Citizen project was contradicted by three other witnesses, the commission said, but it decided "after careful consideration" to accept Vorster's testimony.
"The only criticism that can possibly be leveled at Mr. Vorster is that during... nine months he did not take steps to get rid of the newspaper," it added.