Vriende van die ANC – Friends of ANC – Liliesleaf
Spioene en Dubbelspioene – Spies and Double agents
Operasies in Suid-Afrika – Vula en Mayibuye Operations
APARTHEID SPIES – DOUBLE AGENTS
DUBBEL SPIOENE – “DUBBLE SPIES DURING APARTHEID”
In the world of espionage, truth is the first victim and nothing is as it seems. For the first time, Olivia Forsyth, South Africa’s most notorious apartheid spy lays bare the story of her remarkable life. Known as agent RS407, codename Lara, lieutenant in the Security Branch of the South African Police, ANC comrade Helen Bronson, prisoner Thandeka, alias Christine Smith, Forsyth hopes her book “Agent 407, a South African Spy Breaks Her Silence” will finally set the record straight of her secretive life during South Africa’s apartheid years. Olivia Forsyth joins us in the studio. Listen to her:
Spioen Olivia Forsyth – Spioen vir die ANC
Liliesleaf Farm, home of the ANC leadership in the early 1960s and the scene of the arrest of the Rivonia trialists, is now a museum. Denis Goldberg, one of the surviving trialists, and Bob Hepple, who escaped before the trial, tell Lucille Davie about one of the key events in South Africa’s history.
On hearing that they had got life sentences, Denis Goldberg shouted: “Life! Life is wonderful!”
And life was wonderful on that day, 12 July 1964, because instead of sentencing the Rivonia trialists to death, Judge Quartus de Wet had handed down life sentences to each of the men instead.
“All rationality aside, and for all our preparedness to die for freedom in South Africa, we started smiling in disbelief at first and then in complete relief as it sunk in that the judge said he would not impose the maximum penalty, even though it would be an appropriate sentence,” said Goldberg, more than 40 years later.
“By the time he had finished speaking we were openly laughing. Most of us got four life sentences, but in the end you can only serve one of them!”
It meant that they would live, but spend up to 27 years of their lives in jail – not seeing their children grow up, not seeing their wives struggle to hold things together, or deal with harassment by the security police or imprisonment themselves, sometimes with their children.
Eight of the 10 trialists sentenced to life were Nelson Mandela, Denis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi and Raymond Mhlaba.
Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein and James Kantor were acquitted. Kantor had been arrested a month after the Liliesleaf raid.
A living museum
The Lilieseaf Trust, established in 2001 by former president Thabo Mbeki whose father was among those arrested in 1963, is tasked with the development and maintenance of the site as a vital part of South Africa’s history.
The Liliesleaf farmhouse and outbuildings in Rivonia, where the trialists were arrested and Mandela lived for a time, have been restored, and were opened as a museum on 9 June 2008.
The complex now includes the Liberation Centre and the Liliesleaf Resource Centre.
Liliesleaf was declared a national heritage site in July 2011. There are plans to build a small boutique hotel and conference centre on the farm.
In 1961, the South African Communist Party bought Liliesleaf farm to use as its headquarters. In those days it was a quiet, 28-acre smallholding just outside Johannesburg.
Goldberg, a civil engineer by profession, said Liliesleaf had an “exhilarating atmosphere”.
“We ate, slept, dreamed, worked at how to make a revolution. That is what we did. That is why it was exhilarating. Buying a Kombi, buying a farm, moving house, sorting out weapons manufacture, where to get the things needed, how to buy them, how to transport them, how to train people, endless problems to solve.”
Mandela lived there in disguise, as David Motsamayi, a gardener and cook. He recalls in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: “The loveliest times at the farm were when I was visited by my wife and family.”
He says they were times of more privacy than they ever had at their tiny home in Orlando West, Soweto. “The children could run about and play, and we were secure, however briefly, in this idyllic bubble.”
But it was not to last. The top leadership of the ANC were arrested at Liliesleaf on 11 July 1963. The apartheid government was smug – they had seized and put away for life the top echelons of the African National Congress, whom they had caught hatching Operation Mayibuye, the plan to switch to violence to overthrow apartheid.
When the police swooped on the farmhouse they arrested Sisulu, Mbeki, Kathrada, Goldberg, Bernstein, Mhlaba and Bob Hepple. Arthur Goldreich, who was ostensibly the owner of Liliesleaf, drove into the farm shortly afterwards, and was arrested along with the others.
Goldreich made a dramatic escape from prison, together with Harold Wolpe, Mosie Moola and Abdulhay Jassat, crossing the border shortly afterwards.
Mandela was already on Robben Island, serving a five-year sentence for inciting workers to strike, and for leaving the country without a passport.
Mlangeni and Motsoaledi had been arrested on 24 June, and were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government and leaving the country illegally, but were charged together with the other Rivonia trialists.
Hepple acted as lawyer for Mandela in 1962, also representing Sisulu and other ANC and PAC leaders. He managed to escape over the border before the trial.
‘It’s the cops’
Professor Sir Bob Hepple, now retired Emeritus Master of Clare College and Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Cambridge, recounts the events on the afternoon of the arrest.
“At about 3.15pm, 15 minutes into the meeting, a van was heard coming down the drive.
“Govan Mbeki went to the window. He said: ‘It’s a dry-cleaning van. I’ve never seen it before.’ Rusty Bernstein went to the window and exclaimed: ‘My God, I saw that van outside the police station on my way here!’
“I moved to the open door and saw the panel of the van, which read Trade Steam Pressers. I could see a man wearing a white coat, hat and glasses on the front seat. I pulled the door closed. A few moments later I heard dogs barking. Rusty shouted: ‘It’s the cops, they’re heading here.’
“Govan had collected up the Operation Mayibuye document and some other papers and I saw him putting them in the chimney of the small stove in the room. The back window was open, and I helped Govan, Walter Sisulu and Kathy Kathrada to jump out of it. There was a second or two as I moved back near the door, with Rusty next to me and Ray Mhlaba sitting next to the window.
“The door burst open. Detective-Sergeant Kennedy, whom I had cross-examined in a political trial earlier that year, rushed in: ‘Stay where you are. You’re all under arrest.’
‘A mysterious man’
“He walked up to me with an excited sneer: ‘You’re Advocate Hepple, aren’t you?’
Hepple was the chair of the youth section of the Congress of Democrats, which was part of the anti-apartheid alliance in the 1950s. He was a member of the secretariat which serviced the central political leadership of the ANC.
He says that he had been anxious driving to Liliesleaf, or Lil’s place as it was called, from his chambers in the CBD. “My anxieties led me to stop more than once to ensure that I was not being followed. I took a secondary road to avoid passing the Rivonia police station.”
He’d had a visit from a “mysterious man” who had appeared unannounced at his chambers that morning, with a message from the Natal leadership for the central underground leadership.
“Ever since Mandela’s arrest there had been suspicions about a possible police spy and lax security in Natal. I feigned ignorance and told him to come back the next day. I intended to check his credentials at our meeting at Lil’s place that afternoon.”
Living in secrecy
The leadership were worried about the police discovering Liliesleaf farm, where they had been secretly meeting and living for the past two years. A new property had been bought, a smallholding called Travallyn in Krugersdorp, and Goldberg had moved into it along with Sisulu, Mbeki, Mhlaba and Wilton Mkwayi. It was to become the new ANC headquarters, but the next meeting did not take place there.
“It could not take place at Travallyn because that would repeat the security failure of bringing people to the place where the leaders of MK Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC were living in secrecy,” explained Goldberg, referring to Liliesleaf.
“They could not at that moment decide on a safe venue, therefore they decided to have one more meeting at Liliesleaf,” he said. “It was the pressure of the security police surveillance and the house arrests, banning orders etcetera, that led to the fateful decision.”
Immediately after the arrest Hepple spent almost four months in solitary confinement, like the other Rivonia arrestees, before being offered freedom from prosecution if he turned state witness.
He agreed to do so but as soon as he was released from jail he escaped across the border with his wife, making his way to England, where his young children and parents joined him later.
Hepple said he found his jail time extremely difficult: “In the long hours of isolation and boredom, especially as I lay awake at night on the cold stone cell floor, I became obsessed with our predicament.
“As the days and nights slowly passed I became increasingly confused and created my own world in which reality and fantasy were hard to separate.
“Threats and promises made by the police during continuous periods of interrogation became distorted out of all proportion in my mind and my capacity to reason was seriously impaired.
“I say this with hindsight, because one of the consequences of sensory deprivation and exhaustion is that one is unable to realise the extent of the changes taking place in normal behaviour.”
Mlangeni spent 26 years in prison, with his fellow Rivonia trialists, on Robben Island. He used simple methods to get through the low moments in prison.
“I personally would take out the letters I received from my wife and read them over and over again. Look at the photographs I received and that helped me to get myself together again and go back to my studies.”
Mlangeni became a politician on his release, and is still a member of Parliament.
Goldberg says it took discipline and determination to get through his 22-year prison sentence in Pretoria Central Prison. He did not go to Robben Island like the others because he is white.
“I believe it was our self-discipline and determination to uphold our dignity, to demand respect, and that the warders act within their own rules, that was the key to survival. We found ways of creating our own little world of politics and social contact that enabled us to support each other.
“For myself, too, there was the sense of living time day by day. Time was flexible: at Christmas and New Year another year stretched out ahead, and suddenly it seemed the year was over. This was more so for lifers who had no release date.”
Apartheid’s harshest prison
Kathrada says in his book, Memoirs: “Nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of losing all choice in such mundane matters as deciding when to wake up and when to sleep, or comprehend that minor joys such as letter-writing and meetings with family and friends would be so severely curtailed and controlled, and that fundamental human rights would become privileges that had to be earned and were always under threat of removal.”
Kathrada has been honoured with awards and honorary degrees; while in prison he obtained several degrees. In 1999 Letters from Robben Island: a Selection of Ahmed Kathrada’s Prison Correspondence was published. He is retired but still serves as the chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council.
Mandela describes Robben Island as the “harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system”. Being placed at Robben Island was “like going to another country. Its isolation made it not simply another prison, but a world of its own, far removed from the one we had come from.”
He says that in Pretoria Central Prison, from where they were flown immediately upon being sentenced, they had felt connected to their families and supporters, but on the island, although they were together as a group, it was little consolation. “My dismay was quickly replaced by a sense that a new and different fight had begun.”
That fight involved the Afrikaans-speaking warders demanding a master-servant relationship. “The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.”
It was to be a long, hard 18 years on the island before he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison, then Victor Verster Prison, just outside Cape Town, for nine more years, before being released in February 1990.
The world on release
Goldberg says that the world he entered in 1985 was very different from the one he had left in 1964. “The world was different after 22 years. Colours were brighter, everything moved faster. I flew in a jumbo jet. I wasn’t sure of how to deal with the outside world.”
Goldberg lived in England after his release, representing the ANC in exile and continuing his anti-apartheid activities. He settled in Cape Town in 2002, where he became special adviser to the Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry. He is now retired.
Kathrada was inundated by family and well-wishers when he arrived at his brother’s house in Lenasia, Johannesburg.
“Except for a few indelible memories, most of that first day has always been a blank,” he says in Memoirs. “My most precious recollections are of my little grand-nieces and nephews, clambering all over me, clasping their little arms around my neck, holding my hands, hugging and kissing this strange man they had never seen, but had learnt to love in absentia.
“After 26 years on my own, no other welcome could have meant as much as this spontaneous display of unconditional love and immediate acceptance.”
‘and there was a roar’
Mandela arrived on Robben Island in the prime of life – he was 44 years old. He left prison as a 71-year-old man.
He walked out of Victor Verster Prison on 11 February 1990 to thousands of assembled people, hundreds of photographers, television cameras and journalists. He says in Long Walk to Freedom: “When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist, and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy.”
His first night of freedom was spent at Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s house in Cape Town. “We were led inside the house, where more family and friends met us but, for me, the most wonderful moment was when I was told that I had a telephone call from Stockholm. I knew immediately who it was. Oliver Tambo’s voice was weak but unmistakable, and to hear him after all those years filled me with great joy.”
Mandela says that in his 27 years in prison, he held “a life-long conversation with him in my head”, and that when Tambo died in 1993, he felt like the “loneliest man in the world”.
The seating areas covered secret compartments used to smuggle a total of 40 tons of weapons into South Africa.
During 1960, the African National Congress (ANC) and its armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), planned to bring into South Africa 7 000 men and arms to fight the apartheid government, via air and sea. But instead, a much smaller operation took place: it brought in arms via a tourist truck, making 40 trips in all.
The Africa Hinterland Camping Safaris truck has been recovered and is now parked at its final destination: Liliesleaf in Rivonia, which had been the headquarters of MK for two years. This is where the security police swooped in and netted the top echelons of the ANC in July 1963. The result was the Rivonia Trial, in which eight men were sentenced to life imprisonment, including Nelson Mandela.
A massive onslaught
Page three of the document reads: “In the initial period when for a short while the military advantage will be ours, the plan envisages a massive onslaught on pre-selected targets which will create maximum havoc and confusion in the enemy camp and which will inject into the masses of the people and other friendly forces a feeling of confidence that here at last is an army of liberation equipped and capable of leading them to victory.”
The 7 000 men would be brought in by ship or air, “armed and properly equipped in such a way as to be self-sufficient in every respect for at least a month”. The Transkei in the Eastern Cape would receive 2 000 men, as would Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal and the north-eastern Transvaal, now called Mpumalanga. Some 1 000 men would be deployed to the north-western Cape.
But of course it never happened. The high command of MK was jailed and the ANC took a huge knock. Instead, almost 20 years later a Bedford truck was re-fashioned to become the Africa Hinterland truck. It took up to nine months to create secret spaces beneath its long passenger benches to be used to store weapons.
It was used between 1986 and 1993 to transport weapons to MK units inside the country. The operation fooled the security police who never for a moment suspected that the truck they were waving through the border, contained a ton of weapons each time. Trips were made from Nairobi in Kenya to Johannesburg and Cape Town, giving tourists an overland safari experience. In 1990, the operation moved to Johannesburg, making the trip to the Okavango Swamp in Botswana, through to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, where the weapons were loaded, and back down to Joburg.
In all, some 40 tons of weaponry were brought into the country by this means over seven years. The weapons were used for sabotaging selected spots across the country.
Nelson Mandela writes in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom: “Our strategy was to make selective forays against military installations, power plants, telephone lines and transportation links; targets that would not only hamper the military effectiveness of the state, but frighten National Party supporters, scare away foreign capital, and weaken the economy. This we hoped would bring the government to the bargaining table.”
In fact, the strategy began in the early 1960s and lasted until the Rivonia arrests in mid-1963. It was taken up again in the mid-1980s, and lasted until the release of Mandela in 1990.
Man of ideas
The man behind the idea was draughtsman and exile Rodney Wilkinson, who suggested that hidden compartments be constructed beneath the seats of the overland tourist trucks.
Once the weapons reached South Africa, they were distributed across the country and buried, sometimes for quite a long time, says David Brown, son of Mannie. The caches gave the ANC a sense of strength when going into negotiations with the apartheid government in the early 1990s, he adds.
David has made a documentary of the travels of Africa Hinterland, entitled The Secret Safari, which can be seen while sitting in the truck at Liliesleaf. It recounts the impressions of different drivers over the years, and tourists who took the tours.
11th July 2013 marked the 50th Aniversary of the raid by Police on the farm. Members of the Military Wing of the ANC were meeting to discuss a strategy based on guerrilla warfare like the Cuban revolution to overthrow the Apartheid Government. Police discovered the headquarters of Radio Freedom, the early stages of the making 210,000 hand grenades, 48,000 personnel mines and other explosives for use to cause mayhem to the whole country. People arrested where the top leaders of the Military wing and although Nelson Mandela stayed in the thatched cottage there under disguise, he was not there when the others were arrested. Some of these were Communist Party members who also assisted in funding from overseas. The museum is testament to this chilling part of South Africa’s past and what a different outcome there would have been, had they succeeded in blowing up the country as they were plotting to do on that day.
BY JAMES BALL ON 4 NOVEMBER 2016
For many, Parkhurst is synonymous with boutique fashion and fine dining but it is less well known for its struggle heritage. Earlier this week I visited a house on 12th Street which was used as a large ANC weapons cache in the late 1980s. The cache formed part of a then top secret ANC operation code-named Vula which ran from 1988 to 1990 and aimed to establish a well-supplied underground network of top personnel that could revive the armed struggle. Many commentators have described Vula as the most successful ANC operation inside South Africa during apartheid.
I stumbled across the fascinating story behind the 12th Street house while reading Helen Zille’s autobiography ‘Not Without a Fight’. It turns out that the house was owned by her brother Paul for a number of years including its period as a weapons cache with ‘enough explosives to blow up Johannesburg’* (it appears unlikely that he knew what the house was being used for due to the secretive nature of the operation). Interestingly, the current owners mentioned they still receive the occasional letter addressed to Paul.
Mac Maharaj, one of the key leaders of Vula, appears to have been responsible for the selection of the 12th Street house. In an interview with Helen Zille in 2015 while she was researching her book, Maharaj mentioned that he found out about the property via the highly sophisticated and covert Vula communication network established by Tim Jenkin (click here for a fascinating account of this aspect of Vula). The house was an attractive option because it could be rented and paid for via London and therefore attract minimal attention. Further research is needed but it looks as though Janet Love, another Vula leader, may have played a role as well. In the Vula Connecton, a documentary by Marion Edmonds, Love describes how she was given the go ahead to search for accommodation. She spotted an advert on a notice board saying ‘Accommodation for Rent [in Parkhurst]. Owner almost never there’. This was obviously an attractive option.
While viewing the property, Maharaj discovered an additional advantage – the house was built on a slope which was ideal for excavating a large cellar. He brought in Christopher ‘Bricks’ Manye, who was able to create a large space under the house which could be accessed via an expertly cut trapdoor in the main bedroom. The trapdoor was then concealed by a carpet and a large bed.
During my visit, the owners and I had a lot of fun exploring the rooms of the house speculating where the trapdoor might have been (we did spot a few markings that an experienced eye might be able to make more of). We then walked through the garden to the side of the house where a small door opened into the current wine cellar. Further investigation is needed but it is possible that this space once held the weapons that were planned to be used to accelerate the ‘people’s war’. Perhaps one day Maharaj, Love and others familiar with the house at the time will return to fill in the gaps.
The weapons stored at 12th Street were smuggled into South Africa in a number of creative ways. One of the most fascinating methods was the use of specially converted Safari vehicles owned by a front tourism company. Adventurers would enjoy the trip of a lifetime through Southern Africa without ever knowing that they were sitting on top of weapons destined for ANC operatives in South Africa. The ongoing arrival of large vehicles at a suburban house would have aroused suspicion so each load was broken up into smaller quantities, stored temporarily in locations around Johannesburg and then brought to Parkhurst covertly.
In July 1990 Operation Vula was exposed (there are various stories of how this happened which fall beyond the scope of this short piece). Raids were conducted and operatives around the country were arrested. Helen Zille recalls the shock of receiving the news that her parents had been briefly detained. They were taken to the 12th Street house owned by their son where they saw a very thin Maharaj being taken around the property and questioned. As details about the weapons cache and the broader operation emerged Zille felt great anxiety not only for the fate of her family but for the future of the country. She felt that the revelations around Vula had the potential to derail negotiations towards democracy in South Africa:
It was the perfect excuse the intransigent rump of the National Party needed to ‘prove’ that the ANC was acting in bad faith, feigning preparations for a negotiation while taking the gap to establish a Trojan-horse strategy aimed at intensifying the armed struggle from bases inside the country. F.W. de Klerk himself made a statement to that effect. The ANC, for its part, said they could not be sure the National Party was entering negotiations in good faith, and that they had to have a fallback position if they needed one.
Thankfully good leadership on both sides ensured that negotiations continued through this crisis and many others leading up to 1994.
I hope that the renewed focus on the 12th Street house and its remarkable story will lead to more details emerging. Not only would it be great to trace the exact location of the cellar and trap door but it would be fascinating to delve deeper into who else was involved, how the logistics chain operated over time and what specific plans were made for the use of the weapons.
Judge Quartus de Wet
Rivonia Trial 1964
A home-grown affair
A taxi driver described how he had ferried 260 recruits across the Bechuanaland border. Another witness explained his journey to Ethiopia for training.
But what Dr Yutar describes as “the cornerstone” of the case is a document found at Lilliesleaf farm, outlining the secret “Operation Mayibuye” (Operation Comeback).
The document explains the necessity of violence, and outlines a scheme of revolution in which four groups of 30 men each were to be landed by sea. They would then be joined by an internal force of 7,000 guerrillas. The combined force would begin a “massive onslaught on selected targets”.
But the prosecution has not managed to sustain one important part of the indictment – that the accused were part of an international Communist conspiracy, rooted abroad. In fact, the evidence has suggested that, although members of the Communist Party were involved, the revolutionary plan was essentially a home-grown affair; and that the expected military and financial support was to come largely from other African states.
The trial has been properly conducted. Much of the evidence was obtained after relentless interrogation of captured men during 90-day detentions in solitary confinement: but the documentation has been thorough, including a diary kept by Mandela. The judge, Mr Justice Quartus de Wet, has been scrupulously fair.
The defence lawyers, led by Mr Bram Fischer and Mr Vernon Berrange, two of the most brilliant and courageous of the breed of left-wing Johannesburg barristers, are now going through the piles of documents and considering their tactics. From the defence cross-examination it seems likely that some important parts of the evidence may not be disputed. It is also probable that one or two of the accused will explain why they have taken their stand.
The charges, if proven, can carry with them the death sentence; therefore a real possibility exists that some of the accused, including Mandela, could be hanged.
If this were to happen, it would have very large repercussions. It would produce the first African martyrs. It would make the conscience of America and Britain – where Mandela enjoys great personal prestige – much more uncomfortable. And it would proclaim more clearly that South Africa is now in a state of war.
But whatever the verdict, it is clear that the trial will be a landmark in the African political movement: for it is unlikely that Mandela will want to refute the charge that he has resorted to violent means.