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S. African is 1st black to head military

President Nelson Mandela on Wednesday named war hero Lt. Gen. Siphiwe Nyanda, falsely accused in February of plotting Mandela's overthrow, as the first black head of South Africa's armed forces.

The appointment marks a key step in the transformation of Africa's best-equipped military force, which began four years ago with the integration of 30,000 black ex-guerrillas into the army, navy, air force and security services.Chief government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe told a news conference a Cabinet meeting in Pretoria endorsed Nyanda's ap-point-ment earlier Wednesday and that he would take over as head of the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) on June 1.

The 48-year-old Nyanda, a hero of the armed struggle against ap-art-heid, takes over from Gen. Georg Meiring, who announced his resignation this month after he was reprimanded for presenting a fake coup report to Mandela.

The report alleged that Nyanda and other senior black commanders as well as politicians were involved in a left-wing plot to overthrow Mandela.

A judicial commission later repudiated the report, forcing Meiring, who did not compile it, to quit for passing it to Mandela.

Nyanda said he was "humbled by the trust and confidence that has been demonstrated in me by the government of the Republic of South Africa by this appointment."

"I am conscious of the heavy responsibility it places on my shoul-ders. I pledge to return this trust shown in me by serving the gov-ern-ment and the people of South Africa with unflinching loyalty, dedication, and to the very best of my ability."

Mark Malan, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said the appointment of a black chief of the defense force had become imperative after the release of the Meiring report.

"It had to come, especially after the mistrust created by the Meiring debacle," Malan said.