By DR LEHLOHONOLO KENNEDY MAHLATSI
Dulcie Evonne September was treacherously murdered on 29 March 1988, by a hired murderer in the pay of the apartheid colonial regime. This gentle, unassuming Dulcie, who never handled anything deadly than a pen or a typewriter, was to be a victim of an unknown assassin who shot her 5 times with a .22-calibre rifle. Two bullets hit Dulcie September in the head as she stood, mail in hand, opening up the ANC office near Gare du Nord in the difficult and lonely life that her modest French and her dedication to the struggle had brought her.
For many years South Africa waged its war in defence of apartheid far beyond its borders, death squads played a significant role in the strategy by which government used the neighbouring states as buffer zones against the ANC. The apartheid regional policy was marked by increased activities of death squads. In his Book, IN THE HEART OF THE WHORE-THE STORY OF APARTHEID’S DEATH SQUAD, Jacques Pauw reveals that among the targeted ANC leaders were Dulcie September, chief representative in Paris, who was shot dead in March 1988; Albie Sachs, who was seriously injured in a car bomb explosion in April 1988; National Executive Committee Member Cassius Make, gunned down in July 1987; Secretary-General Alfred Nzo and Treasurer-General Thomas Nkobi, who escaped assassination attempts in Lusaka in January 1988; as did Godfrey Motsepe, the ANC representative in Belgium, the following month.
The apartheid death squads also conspired to kill President Oliver Tambo in September 1987. The assassination of September followed days after Belgium police defused a bomb placed outside the ANC offices in Brussels. Seven weeks earlier, an unidentified gunman had fired two shots through a window of the same office, narrowly missing Godfrey Motsepe. The South African agents had distinguished themselves by conducting a particularly dirty and deceitful war. Support for rebels and terrorist organisations like RENAMO and UNITA bandits in the neighbouring countries; military and other attacks on “soft” and civilian targets; car and parcel bombs aimed at civilians. These had been some of the apartheid regime’s tactics of war in direct violation of the Humanitarian law governing the armed conflict and the Geneva Convention and its protocols. The frontline states leaders had long viewed the Apartheid South as an exporter of terrorism.
Dulcie was a descended of the coloured community in the Western Cape. She grew up in Gleemoor, a section of Athlone, one of the suburbs of Cape Town. It was there, where lies in the shadows of Table Mountain, rich in traditions of struggle that extend as far back as the 17th century, that she evoked her keen social conscience and political commitment to the struggle for national liberation, democracy and social justice.
Dulcie was among the first group of pupils to attend the newly-established Athlone High School. She moved to the Battswood Teachers Training College, where she qualified as a teacher in the mid-50s. It was the profession that she had chosen that first launched her into the thick of the struggle for liberation. During the 1950s, education became one of the principal terrains of struggle, Verwoerd had presided over the imposition of Bantu Education and stood poised to debase higher education and the profession by submitting them to the ideology of apartheid. It was in this context that Dulcie received her baptism in politics. She joined the Cape Peninsula Student’s Union, an affiliate of the Unity Movement in South Africa, in 1957. The political culture of Cape Town during those years was slanted towards the Unity Movement. It was not long before Dulcie’s vision caused her to part ways with her erstwhile political mentors in the Unity Movement. Sharpeville massacre, and the subsequent political crisis that gripped the country, proved the catalyst. She reckoned that this was time for action, not endless debates and discussions about national and international politics. In the Unity Movement she was part of the Young militants calling themselves National Liberation Front. It was while she engaged in the activities of this group that she was arrested and detained without trial in October 1963. Early in 1964, together with nine others, she was charged with conspiring to commit acts of sabotage, and inciting acts of politically motivated violence. In April 1964, Dulcie was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. When she was released from prison in 1969, the Pretoria regime proscribed her activities in terms of a five-year banning order, which not only prohibited her from political activities, but also from practicing her profession.
She left South Africa in 1974, to pursue her studies in Britain. She joined the ANC. It was in the ANC that Dulcie found a movement that did not merely propound theories but also had a comprehensive strategy for the total destruction of the system of racist domination. It was a movement that could effectively harness her profound political commitment and energies, in a programme of political action based on a sober appreciation of national and international objective realties.
In 1979, The International Year of the Child (IYC), September was elected as chairperson of the IYC Committee of the ANC Women’s Section in London. Other members who served on the Committee with her were Ilva McKay, Tessa Wolpe, Hilda Bernstein and Eleanor Kasrils. This Committee decided to research and compile a booklet to inform the international community of the plight of children under apartheid. September worked diligently, and the booklet was published on 16 June, in commemoration of Soweto Day.
During June 1979, the United Nations (UN) Unit against Apartheid together with the NGO sub-committee passed a resolution to hold a seminar on Children under Apartheid in Paris, France. At the Paris seminar, September reported on the plight of black children under apartheid. Mittah Seperepere and September were elected to represent the ANC Women’s Section at the World Congress of Women for Equality, National Independence and Peace to be held in Prague, Czechoslovakia in October 1981. Mittah and September were elected to serve on a special committee to discuss problems of women and children in emergency situations. She threw her body and soul into the work of the movement, and quickly won recognition for her contribution. In 1984 she was appointed Chief Representative in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Before the ANC sent her to Paris, she had worked for some time at the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, and before that for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London.
In the course of her work in Paris, she suffered physical assaults, manhandling and bullying by the fascist and racist thugs and a mugging. None of these daunted her or turned her away from the path she had chosen to follow. Courageously, she soldiered on in the full knowledge that the cause she upheld was just, and, come what may, must in the end be victorious. In reaction to the assassination, Comrade Georges Marchais of the French Communist Party criticised the French Government for its pro-South African policy and spoke of French ‘complicity’ in her murder. Alain Guerin in the French newspaper L’Humanite reported in great detail on the operation of a special death squad in Europe. Several hundred protesters demonstrated in front of the South African Embassy and clashed with the French police. Several members of the Young French Communist Party were arrested. Twenty thousand mourners paid their last respects to September in a mass funeral.
Comrade Dulcie September was the first woman, ANC member, and high-ranking diplomat to fall on foreign soil. Dulcie September’s murder generated much speculation around whether she was the victim of hitmen hired by South Africa’s apartheid regime, possibly with the complicity of the French secret service. After apartheid’s ruin in 1992, it is alleged that former security police officer Eugene de Kock told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that a French mercenary, Jean-Paul Guerrier, had been involved in September’s murder. Nonetheless, officially, no assassin was found, and the case remained on the shelf for 10 years, which marked the end of the window period for it to be re-opened. It was hence irretrievably closed after this lapse of time.
A French government commission, under Judge Le Chanu-Forkel, concluded that no sufficient evidence was found to take suspects into custody. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) also failed to solve September’s murder. The judicial inquest into the murder of Cde Dulcie and all comrades whose cases remain unresolved is the most appropriate forum to bring these matters to finality. The bitter irony about her murder is that, though Dulcie had received death threats over a period of eight months before she was brutally assassinated, and had reported the matter to the French authorities, she had been given no protection and, as a result, no traces of the assassination. All they could say was that this was a “professional job”. Though the cold-blooded murder of Cde Dulcie might be embarrassing to some Western countries, it was as a result of their lukewarm reactions to Pretoria’s terror tactics.
The Pretoria regime was not only determined to embark on state terrorism in South Africa; it was even undermining the sovereignty of those very Western states which veto any tough measures against apartheid. Cde Dulcie died at her post as honourably and with as great a dignity as any fighter who falls on the battlefield. That is the memory of her that we must always cherish. Thirty years after the misanthropic scum who plotted her murder are relegated to the dustbin of history, her undying revolutionary spirit lives forever, and her name will inspire generations to come. She did not die in vain.
DR LEHLOHONOLO KENNEDY MAHLATSI SACP FREE STATE PEC MEMBER AND ANC MEMBER WRITES IN PERSONAL CAPACITY