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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

3. Activities Of The Department

3.1. Protecting the ANC from enemy activities 

The posture of the ANC's NAT was always defensive. The apartheid regime defined all ANC members and sympathisers as the enemy, and as potential targets. The lives of the ANC leadership were con-stantly under threat; for example, OR Tambo had to be moved from safe house to safe house on a permanent basis.

Any organisation deemed to share the same aims as the ANC was also considered an enemy of the state. The "enemy" included Trade unions, particularly those aligned to Cosatu, SACTU, and the SACP. The "enemy" included youth organisations, civics,. students groups, women's organisations, even religious officials and groups (such as the SACC), organisations such as the End Conscription Campaign and the Black Sash - all who did not support apartheid, whether civilian or not, were defined as the enemy.

There were countless attacks on the offices, activists, cadres and leaders of these groups - assassinations, ambushes, car bombs, letter bombs, accidents caused by tampering with cars, massacres by the SAP, massacres and killings by surrogate forces or covert hit squads, aerial bombardments, poisonings, petrol bomb and hand grenade attacks.

In addition, the neighbours of activists or refugees were at times deliberately targeted in order to sow fear and alienate support. To give just one example, the home of a neighbour of Chris Hani's in Lesotho was blown to smithereens.

They had no respect whatsoever for the distinction between civilian and military targets, whether inside or outside the country. Even children were fair game. On more than one occasion the Department averted plans to poison the food and water supply at ANC civilian installations in Tanzania: the children at Somafco were the intended target of one of these agents. There are countless other examples of civilians being targeted.

The apartheid regime also had no respect whatsoever for diplomatic norms, and attacked ANC offices in Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, London, Sweden, and Belgium. They assassinated the ANC's representative in France, Dulcie September; the Zimbabwe Chief Representative, Joe Gqabi; and the Chief Representative in Lesotho, Zola Nqini. They attempted to murder Godfrey Motsepe in Belgium. They killed the wife of another Chief Representative in Zimbabwe, Mhlope Masondo. The deputy Chie f Representative in Lusaka, Adolphus Mvemve was killed, and Max Sisulu narrowly escaped with his life in the same incident. A plane on which Steve Tshwete was travelling from Lesotho had to be diverted to Gaborone where it made an emergency landing when it was discovered it had been tampered with. Such examples could be multiplied.

Besides this overt aggression, the enemy also went to considerable lengths to infiltrate agents into all organisations considered to be in the enemy camp, particularly the ANC and MK. No effort was spared to penetrate our structures at all levels of the Movement. The failure to pick up enemy agents in time resulted in serious setbacks and losses.

The 1981 breakthrough profoundly shocked the ANC leadership when the extent and sophistication of this penetration became clear. Despite this success, other agents remained in place, some in senior positions.

Analysis of the missions of agents who were captured and confessed, or who voluntarily confessed, shows that the primary areas of interest of the enemy were the gathering of information on the movements of leadership figures; infiltration routes into South Africa; MK operational plans; lines of communication and means of transport; the location of camps, other installations, and residences; the strength of MK in terms of numbers of trained personnel; MK training programmes; and political developments within the Movement in general. We lost many committed and talented leaders and cadres through the activities of such agents, as in the cases of Zweli Nyanda, Joe Gqabi, Paul Dikeledi, and Cassius Make to mention just a few (see the attached case studies for more information.) Some of these informers are yet to be discovered.

Some agents were tasked not only with passing on information of this nature, but also with carrying out acts such as poisoning and sabotage of essential equipment. Others were trained in the psychological warfare field; their work aimed at destroying the ANC from within, and they usually took on the role of agent provocateur. They sought to damage MK and the ANC in general through stirring up dissent, tribalism or other forms of factionalism, spreading false rumours, encouraging general demoralisation, creating suspicion within structures, damaging relationships, and instigating or encouraging acts of indiscipline. Given the conditions under which the ANC was operating, such acts could be highly dangerous and destructive.

The apartheid regime did not hesitate to get rid of its own agents when it appeared they were about to change sides or give the ANC damaging information. The ANC is convinced that both Solly Smith and Francis Meli were poisoned in order to silence them. The truth about the death of askari "September" (Glory Sidebe), the poisoning of Thami Zulu, the death of "Fear" (Edward Lawrence) in 1988, and the extent to which poisons have been used as a weapon by the apartheid regime, remains to be discovered. We strongly suspect that some of those cadres and activists who died of "natural causes" may have been in fact victims of poisoning or other chemical agents: for example, an agent was assigned the task to use a chemical of some kind on the food of Dullah Omar, which would induce a heart attack, according to his handlers.

The introduction of rigorous screening methods at the beginning of the 1980's was therefore not the result of paranoia or hysteria: this was a matter of taking obviously necessary steps in self-defence, given the nature of the enemy we faced.

3.1.2. Screening volunteers and recruits 

Reception centres were established in Angola and in the Front Line States bordering South Africa to receive and screen all new recruits. Indicators such as inconsistencies in biographies, false statements, unconfirmed accusations, and certain patterns of behaviour were used to identify possible suspects. Despite their training, many agents feared having to face NAT, and confessed readily. Many felt little loyalty to their apartheid masters.

As noted earlier, by the late 1980s NAT had substantially improved its intelligence capacity inside the country, and had compiled an extensive dossier of hard information on agents, which was updated regularly with information from inside the country, and as a result of other investigations and confessions.

Among other duties, NAT members in the forward areas (the Front Line States) were tasked with the gathering and analysis of information on the strategy and tactics of the regime, its surrogates and supporters; recruitment of activists to the ranks of the Movement; the screening of new volunteers and recruits; and the training of operatives who were based inside the country. Such training included methods of gathering information in areas of interest to the ANC.

At times we knew in advance that certain agents were being sent into the field, and were able to confront them with detailed information as soon as they arrived: in these cases agents confessed within minutes, since it was obvious that they could not deny the information NAT had on them. Keith McKenzie and Patrick Dlongwana provide examples of this nature. In other cases, NAT would lure agents out of the country, feigning ignorance of their treachery, and confront them with information when they arrived.

The sloppiness of the SB (which accounted for the overwhelming majority of discovered infiltrators) also assisted NAT at times, and resulted in agents being picked up immediately - on one occasion ten infiltrators were sent in with a weak "legend", pass ports which had all been issued on the same day, signed by the same official, and with sequential numbers!

The screening procedure  was as follows: 

On arrival, recruits were welcomed by the official in charge, and advised of the rules that would govern their stay in the reception area or centre by the person in charge. The Chief Recording Officer (CRO) would formally explain to the new arrival the necessity of providing the Movement with his or her biography. Recruits had to supply detailed information on their family and educational history, their reasons for leaving the country, reasons for wanting to join the Movement, and details on the political activities in which s/he had been involved. Biographies also served as skills audits, and as a means of gathering valuable information of various kinds.

Completed biographies were collected by the CRO, and handed to another officer to study and prepare for interviewing the recruit. The biography would be evaluated on the basis of information at the ANC's disposal, including information from confessed agents or information on collaborators supplied by other cadres. Biographies were also cross-checked against biographies written by other recruits where there were points of similarity (such as the area from which recruits came, the organisations in which they said they had been involved, and so on.)

The preliminary interview 

When possible, an officer who was familiar with the area or region the recruit came from would be deployed to carry out the interview. The objectives of conducting this interview were to clarify any questions arising from the recruit's biography.

On completion of the preliminary interview, a report would be tabled for a panel which discussed and analysed the case. In the majority of cases, recruits were cleared immediately. The following categories were used:

Cleared (Category A): the recruit / volunteer was considered to be neither a security threat nor an impostor, and was cleared to join MK, be sent to school, or for immediate deployment inside the country.

Doubtful (Category B): where the volunteer / recruit was considered by the panel to be neither a security threat nor an impostor, but had possibly exaggerated or embroidered her/his biography. They were usually given the benefit of the doubt.

Confessed (Category C): In this category there were:-

Definite suspect (Category D): in these cases the panel concluded that the person concerned was definitely or highly probably a security threat, since the biography showed significant inconsistencies with other information at our disposal. In these cases, the person concerned would be further interviewed or interrogated.

Subsequent interviews or interrogation 

If the panel felt that a biography indicated there was cause for concern, there would be a second (even at times a third) interview in which emphasis would be laid on discrepancies, false claims, or other questions arising. Sometimes people confessed at this stage. Confessions were handled in various ways.

In cases where recruits confessed after being prompted or persuaded to do so, the panel would seek to understand the recruit's motive in withholding this information. In some cases it was merely prompted by fear of the consequences of confessing, without other ulterior motives. The panel would usually clear these cases with the proviso that the recruit would be barred from joining the military until they had demonstrated their trustworthiness.

If concern about the recruit remained unresolved, the suspect would be informed that the interviewers required further information with regard to discrepancies arising in the interview process, and would be moved to a "safe house" for interrogation.

The suspect would be confronted with details of discrepancies that had arisen in the earlier processes of screening and interviews, giving the suspect room to realise that the Department had specific information which was in obvious conflict with what s/he had been claiming, which had to be clarified. In some cases where agents had continued to maintain their innocence through the screening and interviewing processes, it now dawned on their minds just how grave the situation was, and some would confess.

Various techniques were used in interrogation. It was common to ensure that suspects were sitting in uncomfortable positions to put pressure on them. Using force was explicitly against policy, but this did occur at times, particularly in cases where the Department was aware that lives of other people in the field were at stake. There were some cases in which suspects were severely beaten, particularly before 1985.

In cases where the truth had finally come out and had been verified by cross-checking other sources of information, this would be conveyed for assessment to the panel, which would report its finding to the Officer of Justice. After this, the case was out of NAT's hands. The office of Justice would decide whether he felt there was a case, and if so, recommended that the Tribunal hear the case. Confessions or other information extracted under duress were unacceptable.

There were some cases where suspects would continue to flatly refuse to co-operate, or continued to deny, at times in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, that they were working for the regime. These cases would also be referred to the Office of Justice.

Although screening procedures were exhaustive, we have no illusions that some agents entirely escaped the net; others were only picked up years later (see the attached case studies.) To illustrate the entire process described above, of 500 new recruits who arrived in Angola for training in 1987, the breakdown was as follows:

(At the time these statistics were produced 58 recruits had not yet been attended to i.e. gone through the screening process.)

3.2. Who was imprisoned and why; categories of prisoners 

We feel it is important that the TRC and the nation is given more information on how the ANC handled cases in which agents confessed. Some had been sent to infiltrate the ANC exile structures or had infiltrated ANC underground structures inside the country and the other Front Line States, or had infiltrated other anti-apartheid organisations. Some were agents who had been operational in the field in violent attacks, at times of the "false flag" variety, on anti-apartheid activists. Yet others remained dormant for some time and spontaneously confessed some years after being accepted into ANC structures.

A considerable proportion of those who confessed were never imprisoned or punished. Those who voluntarily confessed on arrival or joining the ANC were not imprisoned. Several of those who confessed after some time, when their consciences had begun to trouble them, were never imprisoned or punished. Some were people no-one had suspected, whilst others had raised suspicion but we had no tangible evidence against them. Some agents had committed minor or no crimes against the struggle, and were not imprisoned.

People who had confessed and who had not been imprisoned were allowed to participate as full ANC members, and were not exposed to the rest of the ANC/MK community. They enjoyed every right a genuine cadre deserved, except in some cases in which selected individuals were barred from being deployed in strategic or sensitive areas of the Movement.

Categories of prisoners 

There have been sustained campaigns of disinformation aimed at creating the impression that hundreds of people were tortured, imprisoned or killed in the ANC's camps, particularly Camp 32.

We present the following statistics based on analysis of available information on the approximately 308 persons who were imprisoned at various times.

The following categories of prisoners were imprisoned between the years 1977-1991: 

What happened to people who had been imprisoned by the ANC? 

The vast majority of those imprisoned by the ANC were released (245 cases, or 82,41% of cases.) Four escaped from custody, and two drowned when they tried to swim across a river; fourteen died of natural causes, usually malaria, which was rife in the region. In four cases, prisoners died as a result of being beaten. There was only one case of suicide in prison.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.