‘SA knew about coup plot’

2009-11-21 15:42

FREED MERCENARY Niek du Toit says South Africa’s spies knew about the planned coup in Equatorial Guinea six months before it was attempted in March 2004 – and gave their tacit ­approval.

In an exclusive interview with City Press, he said: “We were under the impression that if it did finally take place we would have some support from the government. We were covered, we didn’t have to worry very much.”

Simon Mann, the former British SAS officer who spearheaded the plan, and Du Toit’s close friend, Henry van der Westhuizen ,who was plugged into South Africa’s intelligence community, assured him they had “inside information” that the government wouldn’t act against them.

Van der Westhuizen had previously worked for military intelligence in the 1980s before joining the special forces, where he drew up “elimination” dossiers of ANC targets. He had continued to maintain ties with intelligence agencies after 1994.

Du Toit said: “In September or October 2003 Henry showed me an intelligence intercept he got from his contacts that showed that the government was aware of what we were planning.

“I gave it to Simon Mann and said the operation was compromised, we can’t continue. Mann’s response was that it was alright, we are covered.”

Du Toit said three days before they were to fly to Equatorial Guinea, Mann told him he had spoken to a woman in intelligence circles called Ayanda.

“She said we should go ahead because they wanted to catch the people financing the coup.We were just the pawns, we would not pick up big problems,” he said.

Van der Westhuizen also reportedly met former National Prosecuting Authority boss Bulelani Ngcuka on February 17 or 18 2004 and told him about the coup plan. Ngcuka apparently hardly spoke and Van der Westhuizen took that to mean they could go ahead with the plot.

Apparently there were threats.

Du Toit said: “Simon told me: ‘The people behind this are influential. If we withdraw they can do a lot of damage to you and your family’. I took that as a veiled threat.”

But he spent the next five-and-half years cuffed hand-and-foot in solitary confinement in Equatorial Guinea’s notorious Playa Negra (Black Beach) prison, where Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang’s security adviser terrorised him, Du Toit said.

“He would arrive at night, drunk and drag me out of my cell, hold his gun against my head and say: ‘Now I’m going to shoot you’.”

Du Toit said it “was wrong to try and use a military coup to replace one regime with another. It must be sorted out on a political level”.

But he believes “out of the bad, came something good”. The arrest of the plotters and their “show trial” shone the spotlight on corruption and human rights abuses.

“Things are improving. I think our presence and pressure from the international community helped do that.”

He said South Africa would continue to be a recruiting spot for mercenaries as the Foreign Military Assistance Act forced men like himself underground.

“The politics in this country is that ex-soldiers and ex-policemen cannot find work. But Equatorial Guinea was my first and definitely last coup. If you don’t learn your lesson from something like this then you’re stupid.”

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