News24

SADF helped Renamo kill five

2000-11-22 21:02

Pretoria - The South African Defence Force in the 1980s actively assisted Mozambican resistance movement Renamo to execute five men suspected of assassinating Renamo's secretary-general Orlando Christina, the Pretoria High Court heard on Wednesday.

Former Military Intelligence commander Cornelius Johannes van Niekerk was testifying in chemical warfare expert Wouter Basson's trial before Judge Willie Hartzenberg on various charges, including 16 of murder and 24 of fraud. Basson has pleaded not guilty.

Van Niekerk, who in the 1980s was in charge of a special SADF section dealing specifically with aid to Renamo, said the SADF also helped Renamo get rid of the men's bodies.

Van Niekerk has been offered indemnity from prosecution on a charge of defeating the ends of justice in exchange for his evidence.

Basson has pleaded not guilty to a charge of incitement to murder, or alternatively conspiracy to murder or defeating the ends of justice by preventing a proper police investigation of Christina's murder.

Van Niekerk said the SADF's aid to Renamo at one stage cost the South African taxpayer close to R14 million a year and included not only military help, but also political and financial aid.

The SADF established various training camps for Renamo in South Africa, Van Niekerk said.

A farm outside Pretoria was used to transmit "Voice of Free Africa" and housed various Renamo politicians, including Christina.

When Christina was assassinated in April 1983, apparently by a faction inside his own movement, Van Niekerk's first instruction was to prevent the presence of a member of the Portuguese Intelligence Service, who was at that stage a guest of Christina on the farm, from becoming public knowledge.

He also had to help Renamo with crisis management and had to arrange for Christina's family to come to South Africa.

He was not closely involved in the investigation into Christina's death, but visited the farm, where he saw Basson. He said he did not know what role Basson played in the investigation.

Christina's death was surrounded by secrecy as the South African government at the time denied assisting Renamo or that there were any Renamo members inside the country.

Van Niekerk said Renamo quickly became dissatisfied with the "slow pace" of the investigation, accusing the SADF of hiding something. Some Renamo members even accused the SADF of instigating the murder, Van Niekerk said.

Renamo's president wanted the whole group on the farm to be sent back to Mozambique, but Van Niekerk knew they would all be killed and that a whole new infrastructure would then have to be created.

An agreement was reached with the president that the SADF would investigate the matter and would then send the suspects only to Mozambique. Van Niekerk knew the suspects would be executed.

Officially, the police investigated the murder superficially, closing the docket as unsolved.

Unofficially, the SADF did an in-depth investigation and questioned people intensively to identify suspects.

The unofficial docket, containing various confessions, was later handed to the president of Renamo's War Council.

Van Niekerk arranged for the suspects and the War Council to be transported to the Caprivi Strip in Angola, where a hearing was held inside a bungalow.

He arranged for tarpaulins in which to wrap the bodies, chains to weigh them down when they were thrown into the sea and rubber gloves for those who had to handle them.

A flight plan was worked out to cover the trip to get rid of the bodies.

Van Niekerk was among a group of white South Africans who accompanied the War Council to Angola, but the group did not attend the hearing, choosing to have a braai and make coffee.

They were preparing for a long evening when they suddenly heard shots.

He later found out that the suspects had been shot dead inside the bungalow.

Van Niekerk said he found the experience traumatic because it was clear that they had been shot more than once and that some of them tried to ward off the bullets. There were bullet wounds in their arms.

The War Council returned to South Africa before the bodies were picked up and dropped somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

Van Niekerk said he knew that his direct commander at the time, a Brigadier Botha, had threatened to reveal what he knew about the incident because he had a score to settle with some people, including the chief of the SADF and the defence minister of the time.

Nothing apparently came of his threats.

Van Niekerk said the double role of Roland Hunter, an African National Congress spy who served under Van Niekerk and was sent to jail for his activities on behalf of the African National Congress in the 1980s, had been a severe embarrassment for the SADF. Hunter knew about the SADF's involvement in the executions and cover up.

He was, in the end, allowed to plead guilty to charges lesser than the original one of high treason so that the SADF's involvement with Renamo could be kept quiet.

Van Niekerk was asked to investigate "other options", such as getting rid of Hunter without his death being traced back to the SADF.

With this in mind, he approached Basson to hear if there was such a possibility. He did not mention Hunter's name and had a "theoretical" discussion with Basson.

Van Niekerk said Basson told him it was possible, but as far as he knew, a plan to kill Hunter with mamba poison never went further than abstract conversation.

Regarding a document allegedly compiled by Basson, which recommended the "elimination" of the suspects in the Christina murder, Van Niekerk said it was clearly not a military document.

The person who had compiled it also did not know much about resistance movements and the way they worked and it was not written in military style.

The trial continues. - Sapa