Cabinet Minister Quits, Third Party Member To Resign This Week
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A Cabinet minister today became the third member of the governing National Party to quit Parliament this week after being linked to fraud or financial misconduct.
Manpower Minister Pietie du Plessis, a Cabinet member since 1980, said he resigned because of controversy surrounding his personal life and in the interest of the government and the National Party.
Newspapers across the political spectrum, including those supporting the National Party, said the action was believed related to a probe of property transactions involving du Plessis’ department that may have benefitted his son.
On Wednesday, Leon de Beer, the National Party’s member of Parliament for the Johannesburg district of Hillbrow, resigned. De Beer was convicted last year of electoral fraud and faces two years in jail if his appeal fails.
Also resigning this week was Peet de Pontes, Parliament member from East London. An inquiry commission has recommended prosecutors consider charging him with fraud and perjury in connection with efforts to smuggle an Italian drug financier into one of South Africa’s black homelands.
The government also has been embarrassed by disclosures made during a continuing inquiry into the affairs of millionaire businessman Albert Vermass, who has entertained senior Cabinet ministers and government banking officials at his home and private game farm.
Vermass is under investigation for possible involvement in improper foreign exchange transations. Business Day, a Johannesburg newspaper, reported today that Vermass did not file income tax returns from 1974 through 1984.
The three vacated Parliament seats could go to the opposition if by- elections are held soon. Du Plessis’ rural Transvaal Province district is considered vulnerable to a challenge by the far-right Conservative Party, while liberal candidates would be favored to win in Hillbrow and East London.
The National Party holds 133 of the 178 seats in Parliament’s white chamber.
The Cape Times, a Cape Town newspaper, suggested today the resignations may have been ordered by President P.W. Botha, who is recuperating from a stroke.
″Mr. Botha obviously does not want to be remembered as the head of state presiding over the most corrupt administration in National Party history,″ the newspaper said in an editorial. ″To ensure against that possibility, he must not allow vested party interests to get in the way of full disclosure.″