Amnesty for Gaborone raiders opposed

2000-11-21 22:11

Johannesburg - In a 1985 cross-border raid on Gaborone, Botswana, the SA Defence Force did not hit any of its legitimate targets but instead killed 14 people who were at most African National Congress sympathisers not involved in military activities, the TRC heard on Tuesday.

Witnesses said the SADF killed civilians on the raid in testimony opposing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty application of Manuel Olifant - the last application from 12 former apartheid era security branch policemen involved in the attack.

Muff Andersson, former member of MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, the former armed wing of the ANC), described SADF and security branch intelligence as "careless, ridiculous reconnaissance".

Andersson said the way the apartheid regime selected targets was arbitrary. People who were sympathetic to the ANC could not be regarded as legitimate targets, she said.

"They (the apartheid security forces) couldn't penetrate ANC intelligence structures but they wanted to make a statement. So they hit soft targets to make this statement to whites in South Africa ... it's quite clear they did not care who was killed," said Andersson.

On 12 June 1985, over 100 SADF soldiers attacked houses in Gaborone which informers had "verified" were occupied by MK cadres.

Among the 14 killed was a six-year old Basotho boy, a Somali citizen, two Batswana women, South African student Mike Hamlyn, who was studying in Botswana, a South African graphic artist and a 71-year-old man employed by the ANC as a driver.

The regime had wanted to "teach the ANC a lesson" by destroying anyone connected to it. The killings had been so arbitrary because of the SADF's shoddy intelligence work and the regime's cavalier attitude, Andersson said.

Replying to Olifant's legal counsel's suggestion that ANC supporters or sympathisers could have been confused by SADF informers as activists, she said: "It's the outrageousness of these sort of tactics. Never mind who in their hearts were targets ... Olifant said yesterday (Monday) they (the SADF) were prepared to turn Gaborone into flames, to kill everyone in pursuit of their aggressive ends."

Olifant told the committee on Monday that during the June 1985 attack on houses that turned out to be occupied by non-military ANC sympathisers and civilians, the SADF had a counter-attack force of 50 to 60 tanks, helicopters and jet fighters on stand-by in Zeerust in case Botswana retaliated.

Olifant has admitted to the amnesty committee that he did not penetrate any ANC structures in Botswana.

He also said the information he gave to his boss - Security Branch Lieutenant Willem Coetzee - did not result in the deaths of any of the ANC targets, but that "the wrong people" were killed from information he gave to the military.

Andersson testified that in terms of the ANC's military ordnance in sending weapons into South Africa, Gaborone was used by MK in a very limited way and there were no senior MK members in Gaborone at the time of the attack.

"They'd attack some houses, kill people then create a fiction around who these people were and what they were doing," she said.

Another witness opposing Olifant's amnesty application was former MK head of logistics in Angola, Uriel Abrahamse - a fellow student and friend of Hamlyn in 1985.

He said he and Hamlyn were at the time of the attack not involved in ANC political or military activities. They were both only involved in a cultural organisation called Medu Arts Ensemble.

Abrahamse said he had joined MK as a result of the attack. "It was my decision immediately after the raid to join MK. I wanted to be able to fight back on equal terms," he said.

"I wanted to fight back because of what they had done to my friends and what they wanted to do to me."

He had been on the SADF hit-list for that raid according to subsequent newspaper reports in South Africa.

Abrahamse testified on Tuesday that Olifant had lied in several instances in his amnesty hearing.

These included Olifant's assurances to the committee that he never saw children at the houses he identified to the military, one of which was the house Hamlyn was killed in.

Abrahamse said the house he had shared with Hamlyn frequently had children present as he was then head of the Medu children's department.

Asked by TRC commissioners how the attack had affected his life, he spoke of problems with several aspects of the aftermath, including the TRC process itself.

"Its very hard to deal with your anger when you have to sit and listen to someone like Olifant," said Abrahamse.

"Its incredibly difficult to reconcile - not only at a personal level - when this sort of stuff is going on. Its immensely more difficult to reconcile at a national level." - Sapa