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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 16:22 GMT

World: Africa

Anti-apartheid hero jailed

Allan Boesak arriving in court with his wife Elna

The former leading figure in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Allan Boesak, has been jailed for six years on charges of fraud.

Greg Barrow in Johannesburg reports on judgement day for Allan Boesak
Mr Boesak was convicted by the Cape Town High Court last week of embezzling funds of about $210,000 donated by US musician Paul Simon, the Swedish development agency and other foreign donors.

The money was donated to the organisation he headed, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, to fund the struggle against apartheid.

[ image: Mr Boesak was a senior member of the ANC]
Mr Boesak was a senior member of the ANC
Passing sentence, judge John Foxcroft acknowledged that Mr Boesak had played an important part in ridding South Africa of apartheid.

But, he said, "I know of no reason in law why a person who did a lot of good for the country should be exonerated."

Scores of supporters chanted "Boesak, Boesak, long live Boesak," when the former church leader entered the courtroom. After sentencing, they held up placards saying, "Boesak you are our hero."

Mr Boesak showed no reaction as the sentence was read.

His lawyers, trying to avoid his immediate imprisonment, sought leave to appeal against the decision.

Paul Simon's donation pocketed

The BBC's Greg Barrow: "Once respected politician and clergyman condemned to the rank of common criminal"
The former prominent African National Congress (ANC) official was found guilty of one charge of fraud and three charges of theft last week.

He faced a total of 32 charges of fraud and theft connected with the disappearance of international aid money donated to his Foundation for Peace and Justice in the last years of apartheid.

The judge found that Mr Boesak had misappropriated 259,000 rand ($42,000) from a donation that Paul Simon made to his charity in 1988.

He also found Mr Boesak guilty of the theft of 746,000 rand ($120,000) donated by the Swedish International Development Agency.

The money was supposed to have gone to make voter-education videos, but was used instead to develop a radio studio, the judge said.

Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu had appealed to the judge not to jail his anti-apartheid colleague.

Last year President Nelson Mandela had made a similar appeal on Mr Boesak's behalf.

Shock at trial

The trial has gripped many South Africans, who were deeply shocked to hear the allegations directed against this former champion of the anti-apartheid struggle.

In the turbulent days of the fight against apartheid, Mr Boesak stood tall as a respected and revered African National Congress leader in the western Cape.

BBC South Africa Correspondent Greg Barrow described him as a "man of the cloth" who, like Archbishop Tutu, refused to conceal his moral and religious objections to white rule and the sins of apartheid.

In his trial, which has taken many twists and turns along the way, the prosecution's main witness was discredited and President Nelson Mandela stepped in to support Mr Boesak, his former comrade.

Judge Foxcroft said that part of the problem had been that trustees and donors had been blinded by Boesak's "larger than life personality" and reputation.

Mr Boesak had consistently pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

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