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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 88

Paragraph Numbers 174 to 188

Volume 2

Chapter 2

Subsection 20

Surrogate-force insurgency operations

174 The SADF’s surrogate-force operations in the 1980s fell under the Directorate of Special Tasks (DST) in the office of the chief of staff intelligence (CSI). (These bodies are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this volume).

175 The DST had its origins in the 1976 decision to channel assistance to UNITA (Operation Silwer) and a special office was set up in Rundu headed by Colonel (later Major General) Marius Oelschig. In the early 1980s, DST was set up and located as a secret project in Pretoria. Its first head was Colonel (later Brigadier) ‘Cor’ van Niekerk, who was also responsible for managing the RENAMO project in the early 1980s. By the mid-1980s, DST had been incorporated into the Operational Intelligence Directorate headed by General Niels van Tonder. In the mid-1980s, DST developed an internal dimension in the form of Operations Marion (assistance to Inkatha) and Katzen (targeted at the Transkei and Ciskei).

Zimbabwe: Operation Drama

176 The outcome of the independence election was not quite the worst-case scenario feared by South Africa. That would have been a ZAPU victory. Nonetheless, the failure of Muzorewa’s UANC to secure a place in the ZANU/ZAPU coalition was a setback. Its initial public response was diplomatically correct; its covert response was counter-revolutionary. At its first post-election meeting on 10 March 1980, the SSC declared Messina an “SADF operational area”. This was in order to give the SADF “meer beweergruimte” (more room to manoeuvre) to facilitate the clandestine transfer of RENAMO to South Africa which, according to the SANDF’s second submission to the Commission, began in March 1980.

177 The deployment of RENAMO was part of a much larger exercise involving the transfer to South Africa of various parts of Rhodesia’s pre-independence security apparatus. This included several hundred black members of Bishop Muzorewa’s Security Force Auxiliaries who were deployed to a farm near Pretoria. Simultaneously, the SADF launched Operation Winter to recruit mainly white members of Rhodesia’s various counter-insurgency units. The operation was directed by Major General FW Loots, then general officer commanding of Special Forces, who personally travelled to Rhodesia in the last days of the Smith regime to screen potential recruits.

178 In all, it is estimated that about 5 000 Rhodesian military personnel were recruited into the SADF in this period. Apart from skilled counter-insurgency specialists, other security personnel who joined this southern exodus at independence or soon afterwards included some Special Branch police officers and intelligence personnel from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). Amongst these was Mr Gray Branfield, who was assigned to Daisy farm adjacent to Vlakplaas, to run a Zimbabwe Special Operations Unit. Branfield ran a string of agents inside Zimbabwe, the most important of whom were Mr Christopher ‘Kit’ Bawden, his cousin Mr Barry Bawden, and Mr Michael Smith.

179 Other security and intelligence personnel who moved south and were integrated into MI were Mr Pat Keyser, Mr Eric May, Mr Bob Wishart, Mr Peter Stanton and former Selous Scout Peter Grant. They were integrated either into Special Forces, DST, which ran the surrogate forces, or the DCC. Stanton later became a member of the CCB.

180 Their departure notwithstanding, a fifth column of South African agents remained intact inside Zimbabwe, strategically located within the military, the police and the CIO. Possibly the most sensitive of these was CIO operative Geoffrey Burton Price, retained by President Mugabe as his head of close security after independence. Others who have been named as agents working from inside in the immediate post-independence period are CIO members Colin Evans and Philip Hartlebury, and security police officials Alan Trowsdale, Alec West and the CIO head in Bulawayo, Matthew ‘Matt’ Calloway. Another CIO member who admits to having assisted some of these operatives was Mr Kevin Woods.

181 With the above infrastructure in place and large numbers of ex-Rhodesian soldiers in camps in the northern Transvaal, the SADF was well placed to launch Operation Drama – a militarily-driven project aimed at destabilising the new independent government of Zimbabwe. Its objective was, inter alia, to ensure that the government did not provide concrete support to the ANC and PAC in their armed struggles. To this end, it recruited and trained Zimbabweans, primarily for sabotage operations designed to destroy infrastructure, damage the economy and undermine the military capacity of Zimbabwe’s armed forces.

182 In a statement to the Commission, Lieutenant Kenneth Gwenzi, who joined the Rhodesian army in 1978, tells how he was recruited into the SADF by members of MI soon after independence. He claims that he and a group of black former Rhodesian soldiers worked under four white former Rhodesian military officers from a camp in Venda. Their brief was to follow ANC cadres leaving South Africa as well as to conduct sabotage operations inside Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Railway lines were the primary targets.

In 1981, four former Rhodesians were killed forty miles inside Matabeleland in a contact with the Zimbabwean army. They were Sergeants Robert Trevor Beech, Peter David Berry, and John Andrew Wessels and a black serviceman known to the Commission only as ‘Private Khiwa’. (While the SADF acknowledged the death of the three whites, it has never admitted to the death of Khiwa.)
In the 1970s, prior to Zimbabwe’s independence, both Beech and Wessels had been members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry while Berry had served in the Special Air Service (SAS). Berry joined the SADF at Messina in March 1980, two weeks prior to Zimbabwe’s independence. Beech and Wessels joined in 1980 when they moved to South Africa after Zimbabwe’s independence.
At the time of their deaths, the four were in a party of eighteen SADF members ambushed by the Zimbabwean army. ‘Private Khiwa’, as well as those who survived the attack and made their way back to South Africa, were black former members of the Rhodesian armed forces based in Venda. At the time, Rhodesian-based diplomats and journalists speculated that the group was on a sabotage mission close to the Mozambique border. This would have been consistent with the objectives of Operation Drama. However, the Chief of the SADF, General Constand Viljoen, denied this and claimed that the group was on an unauthorised mission to rescue political detainees held in a camp in Matabeleland.
Ms Mary Beech – the mother of Robert Beech – appeared before the Commission in 1996. In her written submission, she stated that “we as a family find the circumstances surrounding Robert’s death strange. We do not believe that he was on a private mission”.

183 The SADF personnel files of the three white victims reveal that false death certificates were supplied to the victims’ families. The official documentation in those files states that the deaths occurred in the “operasionele gebied” (operational area) as a result of “kontak met die vyand” (contact with the enemy). The certificates issued to the families stated, however, that they died from “multiple injuries” in “Pretoria”.

184 A reading of the files reveals that the three whites were all active members of Special Forces. Given their short tenure in the SADF, they had considerable experience of SADF special and clandestine operations. There is nothing in these records to suggest that these three soldiers were in any way rogue operators engaged in an unauthorised mission.

185 In an interview with journalist Ms Peta Thorneycroft in July 1998, Colonel Jannie Breytenbach – at that time attached to DST, which controlled Operation Drama – confirmed the existence of Drama and that this mission was authorised by a Major Darrel Watt, one of the white officers based in the Venda camp. However, he added that Watt’s action was ultra vires, so to speak, in that he had no authority to send troops across the border without approval from his superiors. After the mission, Watt was disciplined and left the army soon thereafter. However, the fact that Watt acted improperly does not alter the fact that members of this mission were acting under orders from their superior officer and believed that they were on an authorised mission.

186 It would seem that the SADF recognised this fact, as it paid compensation in terms of the Workmen’s Compensation Act to the widow of John Wessels; the significance of this is that only that those killed or injured in the line of duty are eligible for such payments. In addition, after the incident, Ms Beech received the Pro Patria medal through the mail, awarded posthumously to her son. The accompanying letter from the chief of the army wrote that it was for “the part he played in the defence of our country against the onslaught of terrorism”. It seems improbable that anyone killed in an unauthorised mission which caused considerable embarrassment to the SADF and the government would have received such a decoration.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE SADF’S PUBLIC DESCRIPTION OF THE MISSION AS UNAUTHORISED WAS MISLEADING AND NOT A FULL AND PROPER DESCRIPTION. IT WAS UNFAIR TO THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN IT AND INSENSITIVE PARTICULARLY TO THE FAMILIES OF THOSE WHO DIED IN IT. THE COMMISSION RECOMMENDS, THEREFORE, THAT THE SANDF ISSUE AN OFFICIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT ALL THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN THIS OPERATION DID SO IN THE BELIEF THAT THEY WERE ACTING IN TERMS OF PROPERLY AUTHORISED COMMANDS AND THAT THOSE WHO DIED DID SO IN WHAT THEY BELIEVED TO BE THEIR LINE OF DUTY. SUCH A STATEMENT SHOULD BE MADE PUBLIC AND PLACED IN THE PERSONNEL FILES OF ALL THE PARTICIPANTS. IT IS ALSO RECOMMENDED THAT CORRECT DEATH CERTIFICATES BE ISSUED TO THE NEXT OF KIN OF THE DECEASED AND PLACED IN THEIR PERSONNEL FILES.

187 The Commission was informed by the SADF ‘nodal’ (liaison) point that all the files on surrogate operations were destroyed by DST when it was closed in the early 1990s. The military archives held only one file on Drama [HSOPS/309/4/DRAMA] containing only a letter dated 25 February 1983 from the then chief of staff intelligence, Lieutenant General PW van der Westhuizen, to the chief of the SADF. It was a query from the Department of Foreign Affairs about the whereabouts of some Zimbabweans said to have entered South Africa after April 1980. His reply provides some corroborative evidence on Drama’s modus operandi. It states that sixteen ZIPRA members were infiltrated back into Zimbabwe on 20 February 1983 and that eighteen married members were to be sent to the SADF base Duku-Duku (in northern Zululand) at the end of February 1983, while the unmarried members would be relocated to 32 Battalion in the Caprivi.

188 After the debacle of the 1981 ambush, Drama seems mainly to have taken the form of arming, training and infiltrating Zimbabweans for operations primarily in Matabeleland.

 
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