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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 17

Paragraph Numbers 67 to 80

Volume 2

Chapter 1

Subsection 7

Operation Plathond

67 Operation Plathond, a joint BOSS and SADF operation, involved the training of a surrogate force of Zambians for operations against the government of President Kaunda, the ANC’s most important backer in Africa. Under the command of the head of South Africa’s first special forces unit, Colonel Jannie Breytenbach, this operation is said to have trained some 200 Zambians for destabilisation operations inside Zambia. It was abandoned in 1973 or 1974, when President Kaunda made public allegations of South African interference in Zambian affairs.

68 Information about Plathond was given to the Commission by a former member of BOSS, Mr Mike Kuhn. The SADF nodal point informed the Commission that it had no knowledge of any project code-named Plathond.

69 Some evidence to back Kuhn’s claims is found in Jannie Breytenbach’s book, Eden’s Exiles: One Soldier’s Fight for Paradise (1997). Breytenbach reveals that, in 1971, he was given a mission “to train a hundred guerrillas as a nucleus around which a bigger irregular force could be built. Everything was to be done in utmost secrecy”. Whilst he does not state that those being trained were Zambians, he writes that, as part of the training, operations were carried out in south-western Zambia “where small groups from our base would harass SWAPO bases and Zambian army garrisons which gave them support”.

70 In June 1974, the journal X-Ray on Southern Africa (IV, 9) published by the Africa Bureau in London reported that the SADF had been training a force of dissident Zambians in the Caprivi with the objective of toppling the Zambian government. The report was largely based on two court cases in which Zambians were charged with actions related to the training of Zambians in the Caprivi.

71 In a report prepared in 1989 by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) in Harare for the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers and published under the title Apartheid Terrorism: The Destabilisation Report, the point is made that Namibia, and particularly the SADF bases in the Caprivi, had been used from the mid-1960s as a “springboard for … incursions into Zambia”.

72 While it has not been possible to obtain definite corroboration of Kuhn’s claims regarding Operation Plathond, there is much stronger evidence of South African involvement in the creation of a Zambian dissident force during the 1980s, in the form of the Mushala Gang. What is significant about this Zambian case is that it pre-dates by several years the conventional wisdom as to when surrogates like UNITA, RENAMO and the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) became key components of South Africa’s regional counter-mobilisation strategy.

73 The security establishment was further restructured with the creation in 1968 (retroactively legislated in 1969) of the Bureau of State Security (BOSS), a ‘super-security’ structure to which both the security police and military intelligence were required to submit intelligence on an ongoing basis. Appointed to head the agency was the special security adviser to Prime Minister Vorster, General Hendrik van den Bergh.

74 Whilst BOSS’s supremacy as an intelligence-gathering and assessment agency has never been in doubt, there has been much speculation as to whether BOSS also possessed an operational capacity in the form of the ‘Z-squad’. A former senior National Intelligence Service (NIS) counter-intelligence operative confirmed in a briefing to the Commission that a covert Z division did exist, but asserted that it had never been involved in the elimination of political opponents. An interview with one of the alleged few surviving members of this division also confirmed its existence and its involvement in Operation Plathond, in the rehousing of former PIDE officers and agents in South Africa following Mozambican and Angolan independence, and subsequently in covert intelligence collection in southern Africa. Other claims have been made that Z division specialised in interrogating South Africans who had been captured fighting alongside nationalist guerrillas in Rhodesia and Mozambique. Some of those interrogated were later killed.

75 Appearing before the Erasmus Commission of Inquiry into the so-called ‘Infogate’ scandal in the late 1970s, General van den Bergh hinted that his department had an operational capacity and that murder was not beyond its line of duty: I am able with my department to do the impossible ... I can today tell you here, not for your records, but I can tell you, I have enough men to commit murder if I tell them, kill …

76 Two amnesty applications revealed that members of the South African security forces were engaging in targeted assassinations at the time of BOSS’s early existence. Brigadier WAL du Toit [AM5184/97] applied for amnesty for the production of explosive devices intended for unknown victims in 1969 and 1970, and Brigadier Willem Schoon [AM4396/96] for the abduction, arrest and killing of two ANC combatants in Zeerust in July 1972.

77 By the end of the 1960s, the SAP and the SADF, backed by powerful ministers, had both undergone processes of expansion and re-organisation, with the result that the security-related structures had moved from the margins of the state to its very centre. This move was symbolised Mr BJ Vorster’s accession to power following Dr Hendrik Verwoerd’s assassination in 1966. The transition had not come about without conflict and without a significant degree of rivalry between the different members of the security establishment. The tensions were greatly exacerbated by the establishment of BOSS and the near ‘untouchable’ status that General van den Bergh enjoyed.

78 One consequence of these tensions was the appointment in 1969 of the Potgieter Commission. The report spoke, for the first time, the language of a ‘total onslaught’. It resulted in the establishment of the State Security Council (SSC) to replace the old Cabinet State Security Committee. In terms of the Security Intelligence and State Security Council Act of 1972, this council was to play an advisory role to cabinet in respect of intelligence priorities, security policy and strategy.

79 In 1969, the ANC held its first general conference since its establishment in exile. The conference, held in Morogoro, Tanzania, adopted a new programme called “Strategy and Tactics of the ANC”. The problems experienced in Rhodesia had led the ANC to realise that military success was unlikely to be a rapid process, and that the Cuban ‘foci’ model was not applicable in South Africa. The strategy document thus detailed the strategic need for a “protracted armed struggle” depending on “political mobilisation”. According to the ANC’s first submission to the Commission:

A decision was made to shift the ANC’s approach from sending armed groups of cadres into the country to ‘spark off’ guerrilla warfare, and instead emphasised that … [it] was necessary first to extend and consolidate an ANC underground machinery and to generally mobilise the people, especially the black working population, into active mass struggle …

80 A Revolutionary Council was established to co-ordinate military and political work. A formal alliance between the ANC and the SACP was announced, with members of the Revolutionary Council drawn from both bodies.

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