Feature

In Search Of Stratcom Journalists

By Akuba Mokoena

IN the wake of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s death, South Africans revisited the Truth & Reconciliation Report into the role of journalism during apartheid, prompted mainly by a documentary “Winnie” in which apartheid’s Covert Strategic Communications (Stratcom) director, Vic Macpherson revealed that the apartheid-era disinformation campaign was targeted at vilifying the liberation movement in general, and Madikizela-Mandela in particular. He also mentioned that there were 40 journalists on Stratcom’s payroll, prompting a public frenzy for the names of these journalists. It emerged that their names were classified.

The TRC report into the role of the media during apartheid established that there was clear collusion between the Afrikaans media and the apartheid government. It concluded that the Afrikaans media openly provided support for the government and the activities of the security forces by not honestly reporting the human rights violations and being indifferent to the suffering of black people. The TRC report however, shattered the myth that only the Afrikaans press supported the apartheid government.

The Commission also found that the English-speaking press often adopted an  appeasement towards the state and to a large extent adopted the policy of self-censorship. The report revealed the hypocrisy of the English-speaking press which decried apartheid but practiced it against its own staff.

Last week, UnCensored published the names of six journalists who worked for the apartheid regime: Sunday Times Editor Tertius Myburgh, Gordon Winter, John Horak, Joy Harnden, Olivia Forsythe, and Craig Kotze. http://uncensoredopinion.co.za/what-degree-of-separation-is-there-between-a-politician-a-spy-and-a-journalist/

Thandeka Gqubule, who used to work for the Weekly Mail, now Mail & Guardian, was one of two journalists named by Madikizela-Mandela in an interview in which she said some journalists were used by Stratcom to vilify her. Gqubule, following the release of the interview, said she would approach the courts to have the names of the journalists who worked for Stratcom declassified. It’s not clear whether she has pursued this matter.

In TRC transcripts, it emerged that Madikizela-Mandela had confirmed to Dumisa Ntsebeza, who was the TRC’s investigations head, that she had no direct evidence that the journalists worked for Stratcom. “…You indicated that your subsequent information throughout the years had been that the first reporters who broke the so-called story, the Stompie affair, and you mentioned Thandi Makubule (sic) … that they had been part of the informers who were planted in the media,” he said.
Madikizela-Mandela responded: “I had no direct evidence. I had no access to Stratcom information. That was just information at the time, in the same fashion they spread information about people like myself.”
SA’s media fraternity has not gone to court to establish who these journalists are in order to address the ongoing view that some of them still reside in newsrooms and are therefore continuing with the disinformation campaign against the ruling ANC. Instead, through the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), the media have condemned those who have now adopted the usage of the word Stratcom in reference to SA media.

 

Journalist Karima Brown’s Ex-Husband Was an Apartheid Spy

Every year on 23 July their relatives, their friends, a community of activists and other interested parties gather to commemorate the deaths of a young lady who dreamed of being an actress and a young man who loved making music, writes  in www.bruinou.com

He adds: “Robbie loved music and enjoyed playing the guitar. At the time of his death he was a student at the University of the Western Cape. Coline, who was 22 when she died, lived in Bonteheuwel and at the time of her death was a drama student at the Joseph Stone Institute in Athlone.

Robert Waterwitch and Coline Williams were two young members of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) who were killed in 1989 when a limpet mine they had planned to place at the courts detonated prematurely”.

The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report into the two deaths revealed that fellow activist Geoffrey Brown (journalist Karima Brown’s husband at the time of the deaths) was close to the two youth activists and was an apartheid spy. The TRC interview also revealed he had introduced Jacob Zuma, Trevor Manuel, PAC secretary Maxwell Nemadzivhanani and other high level leaders in the liberation movement to his handler, National Intelligence Service (NIS) member Johan Hattingh. Brown worked under the guise of writing political analysis pieces and conducting research for a company called H&H which was an NIA front company, for which he was paid large sums of money.

In an open letter by Nomboniso Gasa in the Daily Maverick of December 2016 titled “Karima, you sold us the rotten deal”, she asks her long-time friend until then, how she could not have known that her ex-husband was a spy for the apartheid regime. “…your ex, he knew Dr Niel Barnard well enough to ask for financial assistance to cover his rent and other expenses in times of trouble. I wondered, “How did you think your ex knew people (in) apartheid military intelligence?”

The TRC Report on:“Coline Williams and Robert Waterwitch

Four limpet mine attacks in the Peninsula were planned for the evening of Sunday 23 July 1989 as part of an anti-election bombing campaign by MK. Magistrate’s courts were targeted as they were to be used for election nominations the following day. Mines exploded at a police station in Mitchells Plain and at the Somerset West magistrate’s court. At the Bellville magistrate’s court security forces intervened to prevent the blast. The fourth mine, intended for the Athlone magistrate’s court, detonated behind public toilets opposite the court. The bodies of MK operatives and youth activists Ms Coline Williams (22) and Mr Robert Waterwitch of the Ashley Kriel unit were found at the scene.

Subsequent inquests found that they had died as the result of an explosion. While initial impressions suggested that the operation had simply gone awry, a number of questions have remained concerning the circumstances of their deaths. Suspicions existed that the explosives had been ‘zero timed’ for immediate detonation.

229 The Commission was unable to make a conclusive finding in this matter. However, the Commission obtained evidence that security forces had agents in or very close to the unit concerned. This fact raises questions regarding the operation and the deaths of the two operatives.

230 Firstly, the Commission finds that youth activist Mr Geoffrey Brown was an informant for the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Brown, who was also involved in Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) political structures, was a close friend of Robert Waterwitch and met with him virtually on a daily basis. Brown was handled by National Intelligence Service (NIS) member Johan Hattingh and, under the guise of writing political analysis pieces, received large sums of money. Brown received his last grading one month before the incident. He claims he was an unwitting agent; Mr Hattingh’s testimony concurs with this.

The day after the fatal explosion, Brown was involved in removing weapons and explosives from Waterwitch’s home. These were not handed over to the Ashley Kriel detachment but rather to persons uninvolved with military structures and others outside of their discipline. These weapons are still not accounted for although it is known that the AK-47 taken from the Waterwitch house was used by a Mitchells Plain activist who was part of an unofficial ‘security detail’ for President Mandela when he visited Mitchell’s Plain.

232 Secondly, Commission investigations have established that the unit was infiltrated by Military Intelligence. One Aristedes Spannelis of the Directorate of Covert Collections (DCC) tasked by SADF Western Province Command has confirmed that he was the handler of a source (one Shane Oliver alias Perry alias Ian) inside the Ashley Kriel detachment and that information received from this source was passed on to the security police. Through Oliver it may have been possible for the security forces to gain access to the group’s weaponry or logistics and conduct surveillance on its membership. The possibility of rigging explosives cannot be discounted. It is notable that at least two other explosive devices used in the simultaneous raid did not go off or were defused by bomb experts. Ms Venessa Rhoda November, who met with Coline Williams immediately before embarking on their respective operations, and Mr Shamiel Isaacs were compelled to abandon their attempted laying of a limpet mine at the Heideveld rent office when the device appeared faulty.”

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