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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 180

Paragraph Numbers 81 to 84

Volume 3

Chapter 3

Subsection 13

Covert Security Branch activity

81 A number of prominent community leaders and activists were targeted for attack during this period. Many of these attacks were attributed to the covert operations of the security police.

The Case of Fatima Meer
Durban academic Ms Fatima Meer’s home was petrol-bombed in 1977. Meer had been the target of another attack the previous year, when a caller knocked at the door and started firing when it was opened. A visitor, Mr Zwelihle Ngcobo, was injured in the shooting [KZN/FM/001/DN]. The gunman was never identified, but was seen driving off in a green minibus.
The Case of Harold Strachan
Shortly after this incident, an unknown person fired on Mr Harold Strachan at his home in Durban. Strachan pursued the gunman, who managed to escape in a vehicle registered to the Durban City Council. In the ensuing court case, evidence was led to the effect that the vehicle had not left the Council property on the night in question and the accused was acquitted. The night before judgement was handed down, shots from an automatic firearm were again fired into the Strachan home. The gunman was seen fleeing in a green minibus.

82 A green minibus was also seen outside Dr Richard Turner’s home on the night he was killed, in January 1978 (see below). The Commission established that Bureau of State Security (BOSS) operative Martin Dolinchek was in possession of a green minibus at the time. Turner was the first white activist and academic to be assassinated.

The Case of Richard Turner
University of Natal political scientist Dr Richard ‘Rick’ Turner [KZN/KP/001/DN] was fatally shot soon after midnight on 8 January 1978 at his home in Bellair, Durban. Turner was centrally involved in the development of the trade union movement and had been involved in establishing the university-based Wages Commission in 1972.
In March 1972, Turner’s home had been firebombed. In 1973, Turner was banned along with seven NUSAS members and placed under surveillance by the BOSS. In December 1973, his car tyres were slashed and the engine damaged while the vehicle was parked in front of his house. In 1976, the Durban Security Branch bugged his telephone. A week before the assassination, the Security Branch’s surveillance was suddenly terminated on orders from police superiors.
An examination of the police investigation into Turner’s death, as well as new information which surfaced during the Commission’s investigations, led to the conclusion that the police themselves suspected the involvement of the state apparatus in the assassination and sought to obstruct the investigation. In a section 29 hearing of the Commission, Brigadier Christiaan Earle, the original investigating officer, said he believed that Turner was killed by “people who were part of the security forces and that they wanted to protect this and not have it known”. He told the Commission that his investigations into the killing led him to suspect the involvement of BOSS operative, Martin Dolinchek. Dolinchek’s pistol was sent for ballistic testing but no other investigation into Dolinchek took place.
Earle and his immediate superior, Major Christoffel Groenewald, told a section 29 hearing of the Commission that they believed the investigation was being obstructed when Groenewald and his superior, Brigadier Hansen (now deceased), were called to Pretoria and instructed not to waste time investigating Dolinchek, because there was no proof of his involvement in the killing. Both expressed the view that Dolinchek had been responsible for the killing.
Former Vlakplaas Commander Eugene de Kock reported that one of his informants, former BOSS member Piet Botha, told him that Dolinchek had killed Turner and that Dolinchek’s brother-in-law, Mr Von Scheer, drove the getaway vehicle.
When Dolinchek was interviewed by the Commission, he handed over a number of BOSS reports prepared by himself or the regional representative of BOSS, most of them concerning Turner. However, he denied having been involved in the killing. A former BOSS member told the Commission he believed BOSS was behind the killing and may have set it up to look like the work of Scorpio, a right-wing group based in Cape Town but suspected to have been active in Natal as well. He named former BOSS agent, Mr Phil Freeman (now deceased), as a person possibly responsible for Turner’s death. Whoever was responsible for this death, the probabilities overwhelmingly favour the view that he was killed by a member of BOSS or the SAP. The investigation into Turner’s death was one of the most exhaustive carried out by the Commission. All documents are contained in the Commission’s archives.

83 Among the MK operatives targeted for assassination during the period 1976–82 was ‘MK Scorpion’, killed in Northern Natal in 1980.

The Case of Oupa Ronald Madondo, aka MK Scorpion
The Commission received information about the death in April 1980 of a Soweto-based MK operative, believed to be Mr Oupa Ronald Madondo but known as ‘MK Scorpion’. Madondo was detained for several months. A number of Security Branch operatives from various police stations were drawn together and instructed to kill him.
He was allegedly sedated heavily and taken to Jozini, in Northern Natal, where he was shot three times. His body was then blown up with explosives allegedly provided by Security Branch policemen in Pietermaritzburg. Mr Gert Schoon [AM5006/97], Mr Schalk Visser [AM5000/97], Mr Donald Gold [AM3686/96], Mr Des Carr [AM5008/97] and Mr Johan Martin van Zyl, aka ‘Sakkie’ [AM5637/97] applied for amnesty in respect of this incident.

84 One of the major assassinations during this period was that of prominent Durban attorney and long-time anti-apartheid activist Griffiths Mxenge on 20 November 1981. This was one of the first cases where the target was known to be an activist and not associated in any way with the military operations of MK.

The Case of Griffiths Mxenge
On 20 November 1981, Mr Griffiths Mxenge15 was found dead at a cycling stadium at Umlazi. Three Vlakplaas operatives namely Commander Dirk Coetzee and askaris Almond Nofemela and David Tshikilange were charged and convicted of the killing. Two former Durban security policemen, Brigadier Johannes van der Hoven and Colonel Andy Taylor, were also charged with the killing but were acquitted. Mr Brian Ngqulunga, an askari who was involved in the killing, was himself killed shortly after testifying to the Harms Commission. Vlakplaas policeman Joe Mamasela publicly admitted having helped to plan the killing but did not apply for amnesty as he was acting as state witness for the Transvaal Attorney-General in the official probe into police involvement in ‘third force’ activities.
Coetzee, Nofemela and Tshikilange applied for amnesty for Mxenge’s killing. Coetzee told the Commission that Brigadier van der Hoven, then divisional commander of the Durban Security Branch, approached him and told him to “make a plan with Mxenge”, which Coetzee understood to mean that he was to make arrangements to kill him. He was told that the security police had been unable to bring any charges against Mxenge, who had become a ‘thorn in their flesh’. Coetzee said that Van der Hoven had told him to make it look like a robbery.
Colonel Taylor briefed Coetzee regarding Mxenge’s movements and Joe Mamasela was brought down to assist in planning and executing the operation. Former head of the Security Branch’s Section C, Mr Willem Schoon [AM5006/97], was also informed of the planned operation. Although he did not apply for amnesty for Mxenge’s killing, Schoon claimed knowledge of it in his amnesty application.
Coetzee said he put together a hit squad that included Nofemela, Tshikilange, Mamasela and one Mr Ngqulunga who was from the Umlazi area and knew the vicinity well. Coetzee took charge of the general planning and arranged details such as obtaining strychnine to poison the Mxenge’s four dogs. The details of the actual killing were left to the four members of the squad he had appointed.
Nofemela told the Commission that the four men intercepted Mxenge on his way home from work on the evening of 20 November 1981. They dragged him out his car and took him to the nearby Umlazi stadium where they beat and stabbed him repeatedly. Nofemela told the Commission that Mxenge had resisted his attackers fiercely until he was struck on the head with a wheel spanner. He fell to the ground, and the stabbing continued until he was dead. They disembowelled him and cut his throat and ears. Then they took his car, wallet and other belongings to make it look like a robbery. Mxenge’s vehicle was later found, burnt and abandoned near the Golela border post between South Africa and Swaziland.
On 15 May 1997, Coetzee, Nofemela and Tshikilange were found guilty of killing Mxenge. Both Van der Hoven and Taylor were acquitted. At the request of the Commission’s Amnesty Committee, sentencing was postponed until the Committee had reached a verdict on the applications. On 3 August 1997, the three men were granted amnesty in respect of Mxenge’s killing.
In making its finding, the Amnesty Committee said that, although there “may be some doubt” as to the identity of those who ordered the assassination, there was no doubt that Coetzee had acted on “the advice, command or order of one or more senior members of the Security Branch … On the evidence before us we are satisfied that none of the applicants knew the deceased, Mxenge, or had any reason to wish to bring about his death before they were ordered to do so. We are satisfied that they did what they did because they regarded it as their duty as policemen who were engaged in the struggle against the ANC and other liberation movements. It is, we think, clear that they relied on their superiors to have accurately and fairly considered the question as to whether the assassination was necessary or whether other steps could have been taken. We feel it is perhaps necessary for us at this stage to place on record our strong disapproval of the conduct of the police in this regard. That is in arranging for the assassination of an attorney who was doing no more than his duty in providing adequate representation for persons facing criminal charges …”.
15 Mxenge was arrested in 1967 and sentenced under the Suppression of Communism Act to two years’ imprisonment. On his release in 1969 he was served with banning orders, renewed in 1973 for another five years. In March 1976 he was detained under the Terrorism Act following the death in detention of Joseph Mdluli, who was both his friend and his client. In May 1978, while acting as instructing attorney for the defence of eighteen alleged PAC members in Bethel, Mxenge received a letter threatening him with the same fate as Rick Turner (see above). In addition, two attempts were made to sabotage his car.
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