|The truth about South Africa’s past is locked up in the memories of its people, but also in hundreds of thousands of files kept by the state and security forces. Victims and perpetrators have been and are telling their stories to the Truth Commission, but a special challenge to the Truth Commission is to find the other parts of the truth hidden inside these files or those that were not destroyed.
|Full Transcript and References
|The apartheid state was a paranoid state. It tapped phones, it tailed vehicles, it had spies and informers everywhere who made reports that went into files that were kept on tens of organisations and thousands of individuals. Files such as this one, which includes copies of intercepted letters, transcripts of bugged phone conversations and source reports. Then files were accumulated in government departments, the Defence Force, Military Intelligence, police and the security police. Now, what went into those documents is central to the work of the Truth Commission. But where are the files?
|We’re aware of the fact that in the early 1990s there was a, if you like, a general cleaning operation; motivated, so we’re informed, on the basis that much of that material is no longer relevant to current policing activities, particularly records of the security police. There was fairly widespread destruction of material which now would be relevant, which at the time may have been deemed no longer relevant to policing in South Africa at the time.
|The TRC mandate requires the Commission to establish the extent of unauthorized destruction of documentation. From what we know so far, missing files range from ordinary police dockets to top secret operational notes.
|Approximately three weeks ago I saw documentation being destroyed by the police and I assume that it was as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigators’ pending visit to the police station.
|In 1992 the Harms Commission found that documentation relating to the CCB ‘vanished like mist before the morning sun.’ // When Ronnie Kasrils first took office he asked for a briefing on the intelligence files of the past regime. He requested documents on a number of individuals. In the case of Joe Slovo he found 2000 pages of material.
|What we had coming out of the system was basically political like a speech by Joe Slovo, Joe Slovo’s election as Secretary-General of the Communist Party, etcetera. But not the kind of information that one would term operational: how the Slovo family were kept under surveillance, the reports relating to that, anything that would point towards what happened to Ruth First in the end. So that kind of material was just no longer in existence.
|And yet many of the files do remain. // It’s very difficult for any bureaucracy the size of the South African state to ensure that every copy of every document is destroyed. There is also evidence of certain people who just chose not to destroy documents, that’s all. They just didn’t do it. They didn’t carry it out, maybe for moral reasons. So the amazing thing is we have come across a lot of documentation, which we are looking at in terms of our investigations and ultimately that goes to the state archives.
|For the Department of Defence, currently; it’s got more than 35 linear kilometres of files and these are not all centralized in one area. They’re spread throughout the commands, the bases, the units, the formations of the whole SANDF.
|Will the information those files contain solve the many mysteries that remain. Will we ever know who killed Robert Smit, who shot down Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski or Ric Turner? Will we learn about the forces responsible for the brutal train violence that claimed hundreds of lives, or township massacres like that in Boipatong? What exactly did the Directorate Covert Collection do and what about the CCB? We know they had ten regions but only the territory and purpose of region six has so far been exposed. Will the files give us the answers?
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|A lot of the decisions that were made, it seems to me, whether it be in the State Security Council or anywhere else were at a broad and more or less abstract level. The real dirty deeds – and there were dirty deeds, we all know that, I don’t think anybody doubts that – very often those deeds were obviously not recorded. There were individuals who went out and did the deed. That’s part of the oral history which we still need to retrieve. We’ve also come across documentation that has been found by the NIA, by SAPS that they’ve made available to us that have caused; I think all of us to say. My God, can this be true? Is this the extent to which the human race has allowed itself to sink?
|So given that there are answers to be found in these secret files what kind of access is the TRC getting to them. // We have not had the ready cooperation from the SANDF that we’ve had from the other agencies. We need to say that, it’s not a secret. And we are working at that. We are trying to get that sorted out, but it is something of a disappointment to us that we have not had full access to documentation from the SANDF to facilitate us in this armed forces hearing. Our documentation from the military is much more limited than from the other services. No question about that.
|Firstly I can’t comment as to whether or to how much the SAPS or the National Intelligence Agency have handed files over to the TRC, but I think one must realize that the Department of Defence and then the SANDF themselves are very very aware of the obligation and the moral obligation, the duty that is imposed on us by the mere existence of the TRC. Plus there’s the legal obligation that’s imposed on us by the TRC Act. So one can possibly understand the concerns, that there might be some concerns on the part of the TRC, that there might be some lack of cooperation, but the fact remains, the SANDF or the Department has gone out of its way to try and set up structures and mechanisms to facilitate TRC access to the military in its broader sense, whether it be two files or two installations or two personal. So I could understand if there was some concern, but I think the concern is probably overrated.
|Is there a chance that your generals are keeping things from you the politicians and us the public? // Well, in a sense that’s obviously the 64 000 dollar question. We have had cooperation. At Dr Boraine’s level, he talks positively about the cooperation he’s had with Gen Meiring. I’ve brought them together, that’s been stated, but the proof of the pudding is as they say in the eating. And until we can determine as closely as possible where that material is, what the situation is, if it’s just vanished, that’s as a result of those decisions I referred to and those actions that were taken. Clearly the TRC feels that there’s information to be gained. I’ve tried to find information. One’s got to put in tremendous hours, but there must be the cooperation. And quite frankly my mandate from the Minister of Defence, Joe Modise, is to crack this, to find a way so that the TRC at the end of the day can say, well we understand why it went a bit slowly but in the end we were ...more
|Meantime the TRC researchers have their work cut out for them, going through 20 linear meters of State Security Council files and minutes. We decided to test the new transparency by applying for access to read portions of those State Security Council files. The National Archives responded immediately saying they would first have to get clearance from the National Intelligence Agency. Three days later we received our reply: permission granted.
|This room was normally the fumigation room at the State Archive repository in Cape Town. Right now it’s serving as the storage space for these State Security Council files, which are being worked through by the Truth Commission researchers. I’m going to take a look at them now, but you can’t read them with me because you don’t have clearance from the National Intelligence Agency.