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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 699
Paragraph Numbers 522 to 532
522 Evidence has shown that, through contra-mobilisation, the notion of ‘strategic communication’ (STRATCOM) or ‘communications operations’ (COMOPS) was extended to include the establishment or covert support of groups opposed to the mass movements and the ANC. The covert nature of such support and the evidence that such individuals and groups were directly involved in violence takes this strategy way beyond legitimate political mobilisation, representing a direct intervention into communities. As with elimination, this policy is reflected in documents of the SSC where there is frequent reference to the ‘uitbuiting’ (exploitation) of divisions within organisations and communities.
523 Of particular relevance in the 1990s is a previous history of encouraging divisions between Inkatha and the UDF. What is important to note is that this covert policy of encouraging and fomenting such divisions predates the outbreak of violent conflict in Natal and that, when the conflict assumed violent proportions, this was simply noted and no attempt was made to change the overall strategy. This indicates, at the very least, that this was regarded as acceptable, possibly even desirable. Operation Marion and the Caprivi training must thus be seen in the context of this overall State Security Council policy. A similar strategy was reflected in Operation Katzen and support for vigilante groups. Covert support for anti-UDF/ ANC groupings was well established by the 1990 and was seen as legitimate and authorised. This support led to the development of links between individual security force operatives and conservative individuals at a local level, providing a basis for ongoing destabilisation on the ground. The connection between this strategy and the violence in the 1990s is obvious. Indeed, support for Inkatha continued into the 1990s. It is thus not surprising that security force members believed that it was legitimate to provide support, including arms, to Inkatha, or to seek to protect and foster IFP-linked forces when policing violence-torn communities.
Covert structures and activities
524 It is also important to stress that the kind of activity outlined above was largely conducted by covert structures. The establishment of covert structures – covert precisely in order to obscure the link to the state – is central to this period. In the early years, the development of covert structures centred largely around two main arenas – propaganda (as is evidenced by the ‘Info’ or ‘Muldergate’ scandal) and sanctions busting.
525 Indeed, the 1980s saw an extensive proliferation of covert structures and front companies specifically designed to obscure links to the state. Thus, for example, the entire CCB operation was run via front companies, employing operatives who formally resigned from the SADF and SAP. A significant number of operatives remained in the ‘security business’ by establishing security companies, a cover that legitimately allowed them to have arms and to employ people with military or police training.
526 This process of ‘privatisation of the security forces’ relied to a large degree on a decentralisation of lines of command and control. Thus, on the one hand, the state increasingly emphasised the importance of centralisation and co-ordination – indeed, the notion of a ‘Total Strategy’ increasingly drew non-security departments and personnel into the ambit of tightly co-ordinated security policy. On the other hand, and in seeming contradiction, the increasing reliance on covert structures and methods demanded an increasing separation and decentralisation from such co-ordinated structures. In fact, the two processes were linked: joint structures frequently included non-security force members, necessitating a set of structures where more sensitive decisions and operations could be taken and planned. The central requirement of the covert structures was that the link to the state should at all times be untraceable. This meant operating in tight, but decentralised ways, and gave operatives a significant degree of discretion.
527 It needs also to be noted that there was a tendency in certain arenas for covert structures and operations to make use of criminal networks. Thus, for example, criminal elements were used as go-betweens, as intelligence sources or as operatives in sanctions-busting enterprises; in the smuggling of ivory used to finance UNITA; in procuring supplies and substances for the Chemical and Biological Warfare programme (described elsewhere in this volume); and by the CCB both in the collection of intelligence and in the execution of operations. The recruitment of people like Mr Ferdi Barnard, still in the employ of the SADF following the revelations of the Harms Commission, is an eloquent example of this practice.
528 The development of covert structures and practices also needs to be seen in the context of the increasing politicisation of South African intelligence structures in the mandate period. Each development is marked by a close relationship between security or intelligence agencies and politicians – the relationship of Mr Hendrik van den Bergh, and thus the Security Branch and BOSS, to Prime Minister BJ Vorster; the relationship of successive chiefs of staff intelligence to both Minister Malan and President PW Botha; and the link between the NIS and President de Klerk. This had two effects. First, it had a tendency to lead to the politicisation of intelligence, with the effect that political agendas and demands skewed intelligence assessments. As a former deputy chief of staff intelligence put it: “There was an increasing tendency to tell the politicians what they wanted to hear.” Second, it led, under each regime, to the development of a corps of intelligence and other operatives whose immense power was both derived from and dependent on senior politicians, and who were charged with the responsibility of protecting the state at all costs, even if this included unlawful action. In this context, the notion of ‘plausible deniability’ combined with a culture of covering up illegal actions proved a lethal cocktail and gave certain sectors of the security forces carte blanche to engage in operations that were clearly dubious.
529 While covert companies and operations at an official level ran more or less independently of each other, they were bound together by a network of operatives, many of whom had shared significant operational experience over a lengthy period of time. One of the important arenas in which such networks developed was among those who had spent time engaged in operations in the Western Front (Namibia and Angola), and, for many, Rhodesia (the Eastern Front). Throughout the 1980s, key military and Security Branch positions inside South Africa were occupied by personnel who had served time on the Western Front. For example, by the end of the 1980s, staff in key posts in the SADF such as chief of the SADF (JJ Geldenhuys), chief of the army (Kat Liebenberg), officer commanding Special Forces (Joep Joubert then Eddie Webb), chief of staff intelligence and many of the officers commanding of the territorial commands had emerged from the war in Namibia/Angola. Similarly, ranking Security Branch officers such as head of C section (Willem Schoon), officers commanding divisional Security Branch offices (Cronjé – Northern Transvaal) as well as all virtually every commander of Vlakplaas had spent time in Rhodesia and/or then South West Africa.
530 Such networks frequently drew police and military together and involved both high-ranking and lower-ranking operatives. For example, Willem Schoon, head of C section of the Security Branch, had spent time in Namibia, where he got to know Joep Joubert who, by the mid-1980s was head of Special Forces. Joubert was responsible in the mid-1980s for drafting a plan whereby Special Force operatives were seconded to key Security Branch offices. A central component of this plan was the killing of political opponents.
531 The Steyn staff report notes that new recruits were drawn into such networks, and those who conformed tended to be promoted – creating a self-generating and self-perpetuating cycle. This set of networks, deepened by joint involvement in covert operations that increasingly involved unlawful activity and involving very high-ranking personnel, increasingly led to the development of what can be termed an ‘unofficial official command structure’. An example of such a structure is given in a memo by the surgeon general in relation to the Chemical and Biological Warfare programme. He refers to the existence of two command structures – the official one and ‘an informal official system’ that operated directly from an authorising structure via Basson to groups executing decisions. From a reading of amnesty applications, section 29 enquiries, interviews and intelligence reports, it is clear that such ‘informal official’ chains of command existed more broadly, and were central to security strategy in the mid- to late 1980s. Further, as the staff report indicates, dubious and illegal activities had been so successfully woven into authorised and official operations that it was difficult to distinguish between the two, or at what level authorisation began and ended.
532 The placing and promotion of personnel linked into such structures led the Commission to believe that those in charge of the security forces were well aware of their existence and effectiveness. Again, the Steyn staff report notes that those in command were either personally involved or, if they were exercising effective command, knew what their operatives were involved in. Given the seniority of a number of perpetrators, the Commission rejects the argument put forward by the NP that violations were committed by a handful of rogue elements or ‘bad apples.’ The fact that some incidents involved the commanding officers of the security forces and appeared to lead, at least in the Khotso House bombings, to cabinet and the State President himself, makes such an explanation unacceptable.