South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

South African president B. J. Vorster was found to have used government funds to finance a propaganda war to sway local and international opinion in favor of apartheid. Vorster’s Afrikaner National Party established The Citizen, an English-language newspaper that supported apartheid. Vorster, along with other government ministers, resigned in disgrace.

Summary of Event

With increased international television access, media manipulation is one of the more common types of government corruption. The information scandal in South Africa, nicknamed Muldergate by local newspapers, involved such media manipulation. Coconspirators included officials Connie Mulder, Eschel Rhoodie, and President B. J. Vorster. A significant amount of money had been funneled through the Department of Information and placed into outside accounts. The funds were used to finance a government-furnished newspaper to fight a propaganda war in favor of the Afrikaner National Party (NP) and apartheid, or government-sanctioned racial segregation. The secret operation was soon discovered, and investigations unfolded the story before the public eye. [kw]Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal, South African President B. J. (June 4, 1979) [kw]Muldergate Scandal, South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in (June 4, 1979) "Muldergate"[Muldergate] Vorster, B. J. Mulder, Connie "Rhoodiegate"[Rhoodiegate] "Infogate"[Infogate] South Africa "Muldergate"[Muldergate] Vorster, B. J. Mulder, Connie "Rhoodiegate"[Rhoodiegate] "Infogate"[Infogate] South Africa [g]Africa;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [g]South Africa;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [c]Corruption;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [c]Government;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [c]Politics;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [c]Publishing and journalism;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [c]Social issues and reform;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] [c]Colonialism and imperialism;June 4, 1979: South African President B. J. Vorster Resigns in Muldergate Scandal[01790] Rhoodie, Eschel

B.J. Vorster.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As early as the mid-seventeenth century, English and Dutch colonizers settled in South Africa for the fertile lands, eventually establishing communities and laws that ensured white influence throughout the country. Apartheid laws were enacted in 1948, legalizing racial segregation. This represented an effort by the NP to take control of economic and social systems in South Africa. A strict set of laws was put into place as a means of separation, categorizing citizens based on appearance and acceptance within society. Regulations were placed on employment positions, voting, and marriage. Blacks were forced to carry identity documents—pass books—before they were permitted travel around the region. Land was divided into homelands, which further segregated communities by family origin. Mass disagreement with such policies eventually led to guerrilla warfare tactics from some citizens, with the government refusing to nullify apartheid laws. A civil war was beginning to seem like a possibility.

While South Africans fought for their rights, government officials did what they could to affirm legislation. At this time, Vorster was a supporter of the apartheid government, a member of the NP, and an official in Parliament. In 1966, he was elected prime minister, succeeding Hendrick Frensch Verwoerd, an active supporter of apartheid rule as well.

While an advocate and enforcer of apartheid, Vorster recognized that the white minority would not be able to stay in power indefinitely. He knew that campaigners for the African National Congress (ANC) were fighting to have their voices heard, demanding reform in South African society. It was feared by Vorster and the NP that as the struggle persisted, foreign political opinion could be swayed toward the plight of the people. Determined to get the support of English-speaking whites and black African states, Vorster needed a new platform. Specifically, the government needed a new English-speaking newspaper to counter the Rand Daily Mail, an English-speaking newspaper that reported on racial issues and was against apartheid. The NP believed the Rand Daily Mail was part of what the apartheid government called a “hate South Africa crusade.”

Rhoodie was the secretary of information working under Vorster. Before working at the Department of Information (DOI), Rhoodie helped establish To the Point, a secret government-funded magazine formed to counter foreign-news headlines unfavorable to the pro-apartheid government of South Africa. The newest secret project to create NP propaganda under the direction of Vorster would be called Operation Annemarie (named for Rhoodie’s teenage daughter). Rhoodie worked closely with the bureau of state security to ensure this illegal operation was kept secret. In addition, he brought in relatives to hold key positions so that secrets would not be leaked. Rhoodie, Vorster, and Mulder, the minister of information, met at Cape Town in early 1974 to plan the covert operation. They agreed that typical campaign methods such as films and flyers were no longer effective in the political world. It was then agreed that they would create The Citizen, an English-speaking newspaper that would attempt to sway public and foreign opinion toward the ideas of the NP.

To finance The Citizen, the DOI used budgeted money from the Department of Defense. It also involved millionaire Louis Luyt to handle the business end of the budget transaction. Luyt acted as the newspaper’s owner, and the NP government created ghost organizations to make the transfer of funds look less suspicious. The first issue of the paper came out in September, 1976.

Problems within the framework of the operation existed from the beginning, however, and one significant part of the plan was called into question in 1978. The conspirators were under the impression that the money was coming from the DOI, but the money had never been allocated to the department. In essence, there should have been no money available, and by the time it was realized, the funds, which were stolen, had already been spent.

Rumors of missing funds and a government-furnished newspaper soon reached other government officials, who immediately ordered an audit of the DOI. Mulder was brought before Parliament and claimed innocence in the matter. Supreme court justice Anton Mostert presented details of the information scandal and divulged intentions and identities in his report of November, 1978. Mulder’s claim of innocence was disproved in the report, and all other participants were implicated. Known as the Muldergate scandal, the secret project was labeled as a government-furnished campaign plot. Mostert’s report also exposed illegal activities such as bribes of international news agencies and the use of taxpayer monies to fund personal activities.

Ironically, the first paper to report Operation Annemarie was the Rand Daily Mail, which painted a colorful picture of the information scandal. Media coverage brought Vorster, Mulder, and Rhoodie into the spotlight. Vorster resigned on June 4, 1979, and Mulder soon resigned as well. Taking the place of Vorster was his longtime competitor, P. W. Botha. Botha’s first official action as prime minister was to create a commission, led by Judge Roelof Erasmus, to look into the corruption. Anonymous sources began coming forward with additional information on financial discrepancies and other fraudulent activities, making it impossible to argue the innocence of those involved. The final report of the Erasmus Commission Erasmus Commission was issued in June, 1979.

Impact

While Mulder and Vorster were forced out of office, Rhoodie did not admit to the accusations against him. Instead, he fled South Africa and moved first to Ecuador, then Great Britain, where he tried to attain political asylum. The attempt failed and Rhoodie fled once more, this time to France, where he was finally caught and incarcerated. He was soon extradited back to South Africa and tried. Rhoodie was acquitted on all charges and eventually wrote The Real Information Scandal (1983), which detailed his covert projects.

Muldergate caused great disappointment within the NP, which was depending on Vorster and Mulder to continue white domination in South Africa. The party knew that apartheid law would be at serious risk under Botha’s leadership and that the future of racial segregation was in jeopardy. The ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, continued advocating against apartheid and eventually influenced the leadership of South African society. Nelson was president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. South Africa "Muldergate"[Muldergate] Vorster, B. J. Mulder, Connie "Rhoodiegate"[Rhoodiegate] "Infogate"[Infogate]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, James P. South Africa in the Twentieth Century: A Political History—In Search of a Nation State. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. The author traces the history of the politics, international relations, and key trends that help define South Africa’s place in the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guelke, Adrian. Rethinking the Rise and Fall of Apartheid: South Africa and World Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. A history of apartheid in South Africa and its influence on global politics. Includes the chapter “From Vorster to Botha: New Departure or Militarized Cul de Sac?,” which asks whether Muldergate was a strong anomaly or a political diversion from the movement against apartheid.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Meara, Patrick. South Africa’s Watergate: The Muldergate Scandals. Hanover, N.H.: American Universities Field Staff, 1979. The author details the events surrounding B. J. Vorster’s scandal, as it occurred.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rees, Mervyn, and Chris Day. Muldergate: The Story of the Info Scandal. Johannesburg: Macmillan South Africa, 1980. This book focuses on the scandal’s unfolding and examines its possible causes.

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