Secret world of Operation Vula

Cape Town - The African National Congress's controversial Operation Vula in the late '80s was not a secret plan to overthrow the apartheid regime as is widely believed, but rather a plan to smuggle freedom fighters into the country.

This operation, among other things, provided former president Nelson Mandela with a direct communication channel to other freedom fighters such as Oliver Tambo, long before Mandela left Victor Verster Prison.

The head of the former Dutch anti-apartheid movement, Connie Braam, revealed these details to the Cape Town Press Club where she was speaking about her recent book on the topic.

Braam was approached in 1986 to help to create safe houses and communication channels for ANC freedom fighters.

"Operation Vula would have cost a lot of money. We could not approach hundreds of people for donations, because it had to be kept secret.

"We approached Jews who had survived World War II because of their experience and because many of them had money.

Mandela sent coded messages

"After apartheid, there was recognition from the ANC, but many did not want public thanks."

Braam said their communication channels were so efficient that Nelson Mandela could even send coded messages to other freedom fighters while he was in prison.

Braam also told how make-up artists and actors helped to disguise senior ANC members such as Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula and Western Cape MP Max Ozinsky.

"Max was this shy, (white) elegant, tea-drinking guy. We had to change him into a coloured, beer-swilling, cussing tramp."

She said one of Vula's most-important political contributions was to ensure unity among ANC members before they returned from exile in the early '90s.

Braam, herself, was not unaffected and there was a bid to poison her.

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