About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Dec 2003: Blomkamp, Peter

POM     We are talking about Vula. Now on the 11 July Gebhuza, Nyanda, was arrested. On 25 July Mac would have been arrested and then he was held in Johannesburg for a couple of days, then taken to C R Swart in Durban. Nyanda and he were apart, they weren't in the same place because Nyanda had been arrested first and would be held separately. He has no contact with Nyanda at all until they come to trial or mutual bail hearings on treason sometime in December. In the meantime Nyanda was separately charged because Nyanda was arrested first.

     Now let me give you the narrative. The thread of the narrative is the following: that Nyanda was arrested and interrogated by Christo Davidson who was out of Newcastle, was then stationed also in Durban. He said Nyanda talked and that he wasn't a very difficult interrogation at all. This he told me two years ago before anything current came up at all. He says that Nyanda either felt that (a) once you guys had found the unencrypted documents that you could just run them off as you wanted. And that after he began talking he pointed out where all the safe houses were. You ran up and down, he identified all the safe houses. This went before Kobie Coetsee and this is right when the Pretoria Minute was happening.

PB     The Pretoria Minute was in August.

POM     7 August. So you were talking about the space of all this information is unloading left, right and centre. This is before Tongaat, OK? So the Tongaat thing is one thing. You were now kind of rolling into after Tongaat, you're still running off information. You guys confront him with all this information and he says, "Hey, you've got the information, there's nothing for me to conceal", and so what he gave Davidson was the codes, i.e. that's Josie = Johannesburg, David is something else. So it was the difference between unencryption and data on unencrypted data that had not been decoded. There are two steps. That he talked and the more he talked the more he talked and Davidson said it was like a ride, we would give him the homework to do at night and say decode. He said he decoded. Then he was charged and when he was charged Davidson says, and this was taken before the late Kobie Coetsee, and Kobie said, "Just charge him with possession of firearms." This is where our story begins.

     So the night before he's informed that he's going to be charged with possession of firearms and he gets very upset saying, "No."

PB     "I've got to be charged with treason."

POM     Yes, "I'm an important person. What the hell do you guys mean?"

PB     You've got the picture here.

POM     OK. Now this is important and I'll tell you why. So he gets very upset and says, "I'm being charged with mere possession of firearms, I'm a freedom fighter, I am the Vula Operation which was the most sophisticated operation conducted underground in this country." We'll come back to that. And he didn't want to be just charged with –

PB     Possessing firearms and the like.

POM     That's right. And when he went to the bail hearing the following day, where you had been the State Prosecutor, that he insisted on getting into the witness box to say, "I refuse to just be charged with firearms, I want to tell the world who I am", almost. Am I so far on line?

PB     I'll run over all of this. If this is Nyanda's rendition some of it is probably imagination and some of it –

POM     Nyanda's or Davidson's.

PB     Is this what Davidson told you?

POM     Davidson has said that he was easy and, "When I came in the night before to tell him what he was going to be charged with he got visibly upset."

PB     That rings true. That would have happened. He would have been upset at the thought of being insulted by being charged simply with possession of firearms. He would have wanted to be charged with being the kingpin.

POM     Run yourself through everything, OK.

PB     You want me to tell you?

POM     Yes.

PB     Look, you're going to have to allow me to ramble but I can't do it any other way. You've got to see the thing in context even from before 1985. Your study starts 1985?

POM     I came to the country first in 1985.

PB     1985 was the year that the state of emergency was declared. It starts a little bit earlier. In 1976 –

POM     I understand all that, I assure you my history –

PB     I'm not trying to tell you things you know, I need to get it in perspective myself. We go from 1976, things bubbled on. 1976 sent a lot of young blacks out of the country. After the riots, after the troubles, they left the country and they landed up, most of them, in Angola where the ANC ran training camps to train people in – I forget what their term was for it, of course we called it terrorism.

POM     Freedom fighting.

PB     Well they were trained in politics, Marxism/Leninism, how to operate hand grenades, the AK47, communications, this kind of thing. Many of them left the country. There were several routes out, mostly it was through Swaziland and Botswana. You got over the border and then you found your way to an ANC set up where you would go through an interview process because they wanted to filter out those who might be police spies. If you passed through that process you got taken to Zambia, you sat around in Lusaka until there was a plane going over to Luanda. I don't know who provided the plane. In those days of course the cold war was still very cold. The Eastern bloc in Europe only fell apart in 1989. The Russians, the East Germans gave the ANC an enormous amount of assistance for obvious reasons, because at that stage the KGB was a very powerful organisation divided into various different directorates. There was an Africa desk that was divided up into sub-categories. There were designs on – the Russians still believed they were going to take over the west. It was all going to come true. Lenin had said we will make the tree rotten from within and then we will shake it and the apples will fall. That was the plan.

POM     With all good intentions, if we go back to Lenin we will be here until –

PB     I'm not going to go back to Lenin. The Russians and the East Germans assisted the ANC and the South African Communist Party.

POM     Where are you in this? You're a member of – you're a State Prosecutor by then?

PB     1985 I was, yes I was a State Prosecutor.

POM     OK. So where does your information come about how their crossover routes were into Zambia and how they got to a camp? Is that hearsay or where does that come from?

PB     It comes from intelligence that was built up over years.

POM     Who? All intelligence is –

PB     It was collected by the Security Police.

POM     I'm just interested in seeing whether you got this as fact before your desk or whether you got it because it was presented to you as fact?

PB     No, this wasn't presented to me as fact. This is from my own observing a number of these cases and, of course, I interviewed –

POM     Observing is nothing. Observing is not –

PB     Alright, reading the statements. I've spoken to many, many –

POM     Reading the statements of?

PB     Statements of Section 29 detainees.

POM     Were these people tortured?

PB     That's a different question. You must go slowly. I got the statements, I read the statements. I've read the accounts of hundreds and hundreds of people who were detained in terms of Section 29. I'll tell you how the process worked in a minute. Now there may or may not have been duress in extracting those statements, that's irrelevant for present purposes. Also I've obtained this information first hand from a group of people called – they were known then as Askaris although they didn't like to be called Askaris. They were people who had been trained by the ANC who were turned when they returned to this country and they were useful because they were able to identify, when people showed up here the Askaris could be shown photographs of people that had arrived in the neighbourhood when hand grenades were going off, the Askaris could say, "He was in the camp with me", and so on.

     Now Askaris, I've spoken to numerous Askaris and they've told me how the process worked. Some of them were quite cynical, some of them got involved through the trade unions, or not through trade unions – one had formed a trade union. The moment he formed the trade union he was approached by someone out of the blue and he was told, look, if you're going to organise labour you need money. In his own words he said, "I then realised there's money in this politics business." And that's how he got into it. But you went over the border, you reached the ANC place wherever it was, now this was whether you go the route Botswana or Swaziland or Swaziland into Mozambique. Some people went to Moscow. A select group were taken to Eastern Europe and given training there but the vast bulk of them simply went to Angola, got given some quick training and then they were sent back with a code and most of them were given – they were told where there would be a house in whatever area they should make for. This was the pattern.

     The pattern that would occur was – things would be peaceful for a time and then suddenly in a certain area hand grenades would start going off, a few bombs, and then the Security Police would realise someone, a trained person has come in, because he was sent in to set up local cells and of course many of these people, well the youth flocked to you and you were lionised. You had been trained in Angola, everyone wanted to know you and so a little cell was born. When the bombs started going off the police would realise someone has come in. They would then watch the bus stops, taxi ranks, that kind of thing, and it wouldn't be very long before they would pounce, get the man. One person could give them the names of everyone else and the whole cell would be rounded up.

     Now the cell, they'd all be interviewed, they'd all start off as Section 29 detainees. Why they were called Section 29 detainees is Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. It was a statute that now of course is considered to have greatly violated human rights and due process and everything else. In fact it was modelled on a British statute because –

POM     Designed for Northern Ireland in 1948.

PB     Indeed. That was designed to deal with a similar problem.

POM     Where I come from.

PB     Where you come from. Because this sort of thing, you see, you cannot combat this kind of thing with the ordinary process of Anglo Saxon criminal procedure, it just doesn't work. The process would be, they would all be interviewed, they'd all make Section 29 statements and ultimately the folder would go to the prosecuting authorities. Now you would single out the people – obviously the man who came from outside would be Accused Number 1 and you would chose who else were going to be in the dock and who were going to be used as witnesses. Those who you selected to be used as witnesses would then be changed to Section 32 detainees. They were being detained for their own safety. Section 29 people would then be charged and would become ordinary awaiting trial prisoners and they would be charged for contravening Section 54.

POM     Let's not begin. I want, because I assure you we could be here – and I will come back and I will talk to you again. I want your daughter to hear especially, but tonight – I understand all those Sections, I understand Askaris, I understand the trade routes. You are as a State Prosecutor, you are when put in front of you is the first case, this is after the ANC has been unbanned, after Mandela has been released –

PB     You want to jump to 1991?

POM     Yes. Then we'll move backwards after we deal – because this is more important in fact for your daughter because I want to tell you between jumping from section to section you get very bored and if you don't get very bored then you wouldn't be a young person. OK? So now here we are, you are, let me give you the scenario. We are now in July 1990. The whole country is going hip hip, Mandela is released, the ANC is released, all over the world they're saying apartheid is over, we're going to have a new tomorrow. And suddenly you pick up Nyanda.

PB     Now I'll tell you how – in July 1990 a number of senior security policemen from C R Swart Square came up to see the Attorney General who was Mr Michael Imber at the time. He'd become Attorney General here in 1984. They came up to see him. I'm going to return to this. I'm not going to be able to give you much information about Mac Maharaj.

POM     I'm not interested in Mac, I'm interested in that here you are, it is July 1990. Somebody comes to you –

PB     No they didn't come to me, they came up and they saw Imber and Imber, if you knew what Imber was like, and I'll tell you later what he was like, his immediate reaction when these Security Police came to him was, "Oh my God, this is going to cause us a lot of difficulty." Imber spoke, I don't do it exactly like this, but he had this kind of nasal accent because Imber was a good Jewish boy but he was a different kind of Jewish boy. Most Jews in that era did not ingratiate themselves with the government and they made a living in the private sector. But one or two exceptions became good civil servants and despite the fact that it was in those days the Broederbond - you've heard of that? It was a secret society.

POM     I know it well.

PB     You know it well. It (the Broederbond) was at the helm, it decided on policy, it decided who would be promoted to what position. Despite the Broederbond's grip on things this handful of these exceptional Jews made their way to the top. They did it by toadying to the ruling race. They would forget between eight o'clock and five o'clock, they would forget they were Jews and they'd suddenly become good Afrikaners and they would speak the language of the ruling class.

POM     We are in July.

PB     Yes. Now they came up to see Imber.

POM     And Imber says, "We've a real problem on our hands." The first man they arrested was Nyanda.

PB     No they didn't tell him about Nyanda. Imber then sent for me and he said, "Please come through." And I went through and I saw here were all these Security Branch men and he said, "Listen, I want you to hear what they have to say and I think that you're going to be working a lot with them from now on." Now this was odd, it wasn't odd, it was ironic. What was ironic was that at that stage I had never even had a security clearance. Can you believe that? I have listened to tape recordings of Joe Slovo, I never had a security clearance, but the Security Branch comes to me and they liked me. That was from 1987 on.

POM     Who liked you at the Security Branch?

PB     Well the first security policemen I met were from the Pietermaritzburg branch, they were fairly lowly beings in the Security Branch. Captain Hansie Pieterse.

POM     Can we keep where we are for a minute, because you have so much information that I'd like to come back.

PB     You'd like to come back?

POM     I assure you I will, OK. But let's keep to the story.

PB     Alright. Well we'll keep the story to a synopsis.

POM     Because if you don't get it then nobody will. And I've already recounted the story so if you don't understand it –

     Mrs.B     She was going to Jacaranda Pre Primary, she was at nursery school. We lived up in Blackridge and she had a three-month old brother. I'll just add a bit to the scenario for you too. Father was rushing out the door every five minutes in a pin-striped suit with 17 briefcases, speaking to the Prime Minister, speaking to the Minister of Justice and I was standing in the kitchen dazed like this with baby puke on me.

POM     I love that.

PB     We'll have to go back. We'll come back to 1990.

POM     We have to begin in July 1991 and move forward and then move backwards.

PB     The squad came up, they spoke to Imber, they must have conveyed to Imber that there is something big here that we have discovered. They would have conveyed to him that despite the fact that the organisations have all been unbanned and invited back to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a new South Africa, they are underground smuggling arms and setting up a major organisation which we have cracked. That was what they conveyed to Imber. I think they would have said to him they want someone from his staff to be assigned to them to assist them permanently on this for the foreseeable future. I don't know what transpired between Imber and them. I don't know whether they expressed the wish that it should be me rather than anyone else but Imber sent for me and said, "Take them away and talk to them and see what they want and help them." Imber was glad to get rid of them so that he could get back to the sort of things that concerned him more, like the transport return for the month and that kind of thing. You see I was liked by the Security Police at that stage, which is ironic. I have never, despite my name, I still have difficulty speaking Afrikaans. I grew up in Cape Town. I'm regarded, at that stage, by my Afrikaans colleagues I was regarded as a 'soutie'. Have you heard that expression? I'll have to explain that later. It's a derogatory term. The Afrikaners were the ruling race, they also believed that they were the 'uitverkore volk', a chosen people, brought here by God to christianise the blacks and bring the light of Christianity to Africa.

POM     I know that. We're back in 1991.

PB     1991. Despite the fact that I wasn't an Afrikaner, despite the fact that I had no security clearance, etc., the Security Police liked me and I liked them because it got me away from the dreary, dreary job of dealing with criminal cases; well, murder in the technical sense, but really just "Sipho stabbed Bongani at the bus stop on Friday night after he drank half a bottle of brandy and there was an argument over either a woman or what radio station they were going to listen to on his transistor radio."

POM     We're back in 1991. Is this how this man wore down people in court?

     Mrs.B     Oh yes, we get cross-examined too.

PB     So I liked the Security Police because they made my life more interesting.

POM     We're back in 1990. You get approached. What else? They say, "We have broken the biggest case."

PB     I said to myself, "Hm, this is nice because I'll be escaping from the office for a long time." I said, "Right, what do you need?" They said, "We think you'd better come down to Durban." I said, "Right let's go to Durban."

POM     Where were you? You were in?

PB     Maritzburg. So I got down there and I was filled in and I could see that what had happened was - I appeared at a briefing.

POM     By?

PB     I forget all the names. You know the investigating officer officially of the Vula docket, sorry, as far as I remember was Major de Beer. There were two De Beers, two brothers. One was Zen de Beer.

POM     I've come across Colonel Frik.

PB     What was his full name?

POM     Venter. I can check on that. I must say for a man with such a fantastic memory on detail of everything, when you say I've no memory of names, that's a contradiction.

PB     I don't remember all the names. I'll try and remember as many as I can. But I then began to – I attended their briefings and I could work out fairly quickly what had happened. From my own perspective it was useful to me. It allowed me to escape from the humdrum life in the Pietermaritzburg office, to tell the Attorney General, "Oh, this is going to be a big thing."

POM     On we go.

PB     "I must be there." So what I had established had occurred was there was an organisation within the ANC that had been set up separately and parallel to its ordinary structures. It was supposedly an elite underground, very secret thing that was intended to set up cells and structures that would come to life if the need arose to present some leverage at the negotiating table.

POM     The information you were presented with at that time must have come from the unencrypted documents? Is that right?

PB     Various computers had been seized and the hard drives of these computers all had information on them in the form of – well they were records of messages.

POM     But a lot of information, there were two forms of information, three forms. One is the ANC had encrypted documentation that had gone clean for years, or for a year and a half. Secondly, there was the unencrypted data that was picked up with Nyanda and that you were able to roll off thousands of pages, thousands upon thousands of pages. Then there would be the third kind of documentation which would be to the unencrypted that you had rolled off, the attachment of the correct codes to the names. OK? Is that right?

PB     It may or may not be right because I wasn't involved in the extraction of that information. What I got was the printout. The decoded, the deciphered printouts. Most of it was messages, a lot of it was –

POM     Now when you say deciphered, OK, that would be stage one, that would be deciphered information. Now the information you were first given had that been decoded?

PB     By the time I got there, I'm trying to remember now, I'm trying to remember, by the time I got there computers had been seized and they were in the process of – the computer experts were in the process of trying to extract the contents of the hard drive of those computers. I don't know how long it took them but some two weeks after the thing had started I started getting great piles of paper printed out and deciphered. I wasn't concerned about where it came from. I just knew that it had been on these computers because the case against as many Vula conspirators as they could round up would have to be based on – they would obviously be charged – now forgetting for the time being about Kobie Coetsee's machinations and behind-the-scenes deals with the ANC, looking at it from our perspective and the Security Branch perspective, the obvious thing to charge them with was not treason, not the possession of firearms, but contravention of Section 54 of the Internal Security Act. To make out a case based on, a case of contravening Section 54, the evidence would all be circumstantial. The evidence would consist of what had been found, where it had been found and then the difficulty – had the thing ever come to trial it would have been a tedious business proving this because the documents, we would have gone through the documents and shown that what appeared from the documents revealed that A was whoever he was and was doing this, B was doing this.

POM     To again back up. The first person arrested, eleven days before anybody else, was Nyanda?

PB     Right.

POM     So Nyanda is taken in and Nyanda is questioned and Nyanda talks. He talks.

PB     I don't know what he said. I never read his statement.

POM     You never? OK. Well let me jump forward. You never read his statement but you were at his bail application?

PB     Yes.

POM     And you never read his statement?

PB     Absolutely.

POM     What do you mean? You didn't read his statement, go through his file?

PB     I read what I had. I didn't read a Section 29 statement taken from Nyanda.

POM     You just said you didn't read his statement.

PB     I didn't read his statement.

POM     Well you're inferring that he made a statement.

PB     I don't know whether he made a statement.

POM     How do you know that?

PB     You told me he made a statement.

POM     No, you just said, excuse me, you just said – I like this, you just said that you didn't read his statement.

PB     You said to me –

POM     You said to me that he talked.

PB     Maybe I just – let's go back to where you said Davidson interviewed him and he spoke.

POM     But you can't remember Davidson?

PB     The name is very familiar. It rings a bell, a very faint bell, but I can't put a face to the name.

POM     Newcastle?

PB     You know we're 13 years down the line. Some of those policemen have died.

POM     But you can remember everything with such great detail. All of a sudden –

PB     Some things I can remember in detail.

POM     Come on. Can we have some more coffee? Do you think this is the first time he's seen one that will go on for a bit?

     Mrs.B     Look, he's usually the one who's doing it the other way around isn't it. So all credit to you and all that sort of thing.

POM     Who's side are you on?

PB     I got the information it had already been decoded. It had been decoded in the sense that what was on the paper were legible English words, it was no longer just figures and ciphers, but it hadn't been decoded in this sense. We didn't know what name belonged to what person. We didn't know yet that Kasrils was Daniel or that Daniel, where the messages spoke about Daniel that that was Kasrils. That had to be worked out by us and if Nyanda says that he handed that over to the police and he told them who was he I don't believe he did. Well I can't be certain but I don't believe he did. The case we would have to make out, we would have to show, for example, that Kasrils was Daniel and that Daniel was Kasrils and we'd have to do that by taking all the references in the documents to Daniel and showing how these things matched the life of Ronnie Kasrils. Because despite the fact that these people were the great revolutionaries they were and had been trained to be careful and do things so secretly, they were just so careless, even men like Kasrils.

     In the Vula printout, Kasrils used to communicate with his wife in London through the Vula network so you would get just letters from husband to wife travelling through the thing and he would say, "Oh the other day I was in Florida Road. What a trip down memory lane it was for me. I even saw the house where I was nearly arrested in 1957." I would think that's fairly careless to send messages like that. Would you catch a KGB operative sending messages like that in a one-time pad code? At the end of the day it is through little things, hundreds of little things like this that would have enabled us to prove that where the documents talk about Daniel that is Kasrils. Where the documents talk about Charles, that is so-and-so. I forget what code name went with what.

     But much of the time that I spent in Durban was sitting wading through these documents collecting, tying up these little loose ends and pointing out things that I've picked up from the documents to the Security Police so that they could follow them up, like the fact that one of the documents spoke about a disk being delivered by a courier who was a KLM air hostess. I don't know whether you've followed that up? I pointed this out and I said check up who were the air hostesses on that flight. Check up on who had tickets for that flight. My function, I was one of the backroom boys.

POM     But all you're finding out is things that happened.

PB     And building up a case against – we had nine people.

POM     I know, but the first one was Nyanda. He was done alone because he was –

PB     Nyanda was arrested first.

POM     And he went to court alone first. This is where we come back to –

PB     What day of the week was that? Was that a Wednesday his bail hearing in the regional court? You see on the Sunday, Sunday afternoon, I got a phone call from Michael Imber who said, "Please pack your bags, we're going to Pretoria to see the minister."

     Mrs.B     That's a day he went out and I was left holding the baby with puke on my shoulder. He went off to see the Prime Minister.

PB     You know for Imber, such a died-in-the-wool civil servant, a whole lifetime toadying to the Afrikaners, the ruling race, to claw his way up to Attorney General, this was a big thing. "The minister wants to see us tonight. Please pack your bags. Monica (that was his secretary) has already booked us tickets on the plane." So I packed my bags and we flew to Pretoria, to Johannesburg, and we were fetched – I think we were fetched by the Director General of Justice, Mr. Nefdt at the time, and we were dropped off at some residence in Bryntirion, some great big house where Kobie Coetsee was hanging around. I had the three briefcases, I had boxes and boxes. I took all the Vula documents with me to show him.

POM     And he?

PB     He wasn't interested. His first statement to me – Kobie Coetsee was an arrogant little bastard.

POM     I knew Kobie.

PB     You can put that in the book that I said that, I couldn't give a stuff.

POM     I was the only person who flew down to Bloemfontein to see him buried. I hired a plane to do that because he was both what you say and in later life he, like most people in government at the time, had to go to extreme pains to justify everything that he did. Now I spent an enormous amount of hours with him and I want to tell you something, he never made sense. I'm telling you that because I have an incredible amount of documentation that I can never use and never put any place because it simply makes no sense. But at that time he had been with the people who had been talking to Mandela and the Pretoria Minute had just happened.

PB     No, not yet, not yet.

POM     That was 7 August. So we're talking about the period from 25 July. Mac is arrested on the Sunday, he was arrested two days before.

PB     What was the date of Nyanda's bail hearing? I can get it because this here is my newspaper press clippings scrapbook of the Vula case. I'll lend it to you. We'll be able to establish from here the date. I was very tempted to throw this away.

POM     You can't, it's history. If I'd come here two years ago!

PB     If you'd come to me in time I could have given you the Vula documents. It might have been a breach of security but who cares about that now.

     Mrs.B     Peter's past the stage of caring. Peter's no longer employed by the State.

PB     And the State has become a joke, has it not?

POM     I'm an objective writer, I can never comment on that.

     Mrs. B     Are you going to be even-handed about this?

PB     I think this file starts at the other end. Here we are. It starts on 22 July. It was the week preceding that that the squad of policeman –

     Mrs.B     We also knew about all these ANC camps. They surrounded my father's farm in Lusaka, because that's where I come from.

PB     The main training later took place in Angola.

POM     You were called up on the plane by whatever you were calling, the former minister.

PB     Kobie Coetsee. Imber and I got dropped off there, we eventually got to see him. He offered me no refreshments. The very first thing, almost the first thing he said to me – of course Imber was trying his very best to suck up to Coetsee, "Isn't the weather nice, Mr Minister?" and that kind of thing. Kobie Coetsee said, "Didn't you get my message that I didn't want them charged with anything more than possession of firearms. We just wanted a quick, simple prosecution." So I said, "No, Mr Minister, I didn't get that message. You didn't phone me." He looked a bit taken aback by that piece of cheek, so he said, "Well that's what we wanted." So I said, "Well it should have been made clear because what happened in the interim is I have been with the Security Police in Durban sifting through all the evidence. I've sifted through everything that was printed out from the computers seized from this group and I have it here in these three boxes and if you would just give me five minutes of your time, Mr Minister, I'll highlight a few things for you that will make it plain that it would be considered absurd to charge them only with possession of firearms because this goes beyond possessing firearms."

     Kobie Coetsee tried to cut me short. I said, "No, please give me five minutes of your time." Then I said to him, "Could I have a drink of water please?" He then said, "Oh, yes, I'm sorry, I didn't offer. Would you like something stronger?" So I said, "Yes, I wouldn't mind." He poured it himself eventually. He was there alone in the house, no servants in this huge mansion in Bryntirion. So he fetched me a whisky and soda. I then said, "Thank you very much", and I then started telling Coetsee about the documents, taking him through them and telling him what was really going on. I ended by saying, "I don't think you can simply charge them with possession of firearms. And of course it's the Attorney General's discretion. That's how things work here. The executive doesn't interfere, or the political representatives don't interfere in the discretion of the Attorney General. It's always worked like that. He decides what they're going to be charged with. He decides whether they're going to be charged or not and he decides in what forum." Whereupon Imber was getting more and more agitated. He nearly had a heart attack. But Coetsee could see that I was right because in theory that is so.

     Where do you get the Minister of Justice summoning an Attorney General and saying, "Didn't you get my message that I only wanted them charged with this?" It might happen now in this government but in the old days whatever were the other sins of the apartheid regime, the Minister of Justice did not interfere in the prosecuting authority's discretion. The Criminal Procedure Act, I believe, I seem to recall, gave the minister the right to override an Attorney General's decision but it was never exercised and here we have this little runt summonsing us from Pietermaritzburg and saying, "Didn't you get our message?" So I said to him, "No, I didn't get your message. You should have made the message clear."

POM     OK. You've had the whisky and soda, I hope.

PB     Yes. Now late at night I gave him to understand I was hungry so we went to a steak house.

POM     Sounds like Kobie. I think I know the steak house.

PB     We went to a steak house and then we went back to the hotel and Imber was now in a thoroughly agitated state. Now this was about two, three o'clock in the morning. Oh, the last thing Kobie had said was, "The Security Council is meeting tomorrow and I would just like you to give me a résumé of this, that and the next." There were three points, I can't remember what they were. We got back to the hotel. Imber was in a fine state now, terribly nervous. This was the most nerve-wracking thing that had ever happened to him in his life and I said, "Before I do anything else I want a cup of coffee." But it was a bit difficult rousing service in the Burgers Park Hotel at three o'clock in the morning. Imber said, "No, I don't think you must worry about coffee. I think you must get down to writing what the minister wanted." So I said, "I couldn't give a stuff about what the minister wanted and I'm actually toying with the idea right now of resigning and I am wondering whether I am going to write anything or not." Imber says, "No, no, you can't do this to me." So I said, "Listen, I'll think about it. Go and sleep but I'm first having a cup of coffee."

     So he was up early in the morning, way before breakfast, knocking on my door, "Have you made some notes, those notes the minister wanted?" So I said, "Yes, yes, yes." We had breakfast, we were fetched, I think Nefdt sent a car, we went round to the Justice Department's offices where someone typed out what I had written. That became a big problem for Imber because before we went back to Durban he kept on saying, "I must buy her an orchid or something for all the typing she did for us." Is it difficult to believe? This is the kind of man who was Attorney General of Natal. These were his priorities.

     So then we went around to the Union Buildings where the Security Council was due to meet and I sat outside the office, in the kind of reception area there, anteroom of President de Klerk's office where – and it really got a bit boring. Anyway I observed the Minister of Finance, Barend du Plessis on official phones making some arrangements for the weekend for himself, and we kicked our heels there. I was eventually introduced to De Klerk. We were kept waiting a little bit – oh, he thanked me for all my efforts.

POM     De Klerk did?

PB     Yes. He was out of cigarettes. Not many people knew that De Klerk was a smoker, he smoked John Rolfe and smoked quite heavily. He was out of cigarettes so I said, "Would you like a Paul Revere?" I used to smoke quite heavily in those days. The Security Council then met and I don't know quite what they decided but whatever they decided agitated General van der Merwe and General Basie Smit greatly. They were very unhappy about whatever was decided.

POM     Were they in on the meeting?

PB     Yes. Or were they in on the meeting? Look, the then Minister of Police was Adriaan Vlok and Adriaan Vlok and Kobie Coetsee, of course, there was some friction between the two of them and there was a bit of competition.

POM     Would Basie Smit have been in on that meeting?

PB     No, I don't think so. I think Basie Smit would have sat outside and Basie Smit would have heard from Adriaan Vlok what had happened and Adriaan Vlok also left the meeting in high dudgeon having told Van der Merwe and Basie Smit whereupon Imber and I met with Basie Smit and General van der Merwe and they said, "We can't work like this." So I said, "Of course it can't work like this."

POM     When you said it can't work like this? The National Security Council had taken a decision?

PB     I didn't find out what the decision was but it would appear that they had made the decision that there was to be no prosecution of the Vula crowd.

POM     Well you're sitting outside, there's a meeting of the National Security Council taking place.

PB     I'm waiting in the anteroom.

POM     And you're in the anteroom.

PB     Coetsee's in the meeting.

POM     And with you in the anteroom is Basie Smit?

PB     No, no. With me in the anteroom is Imber and there's a procession of cabinet ministers going through there.

POM     Where were Basie Smit and Van der Merwe?

PB     Basie Smit and General van der Merwe, I'm not sure where they were at that moment. They were somewhere in the building. Presumably they were in Adriaan Vlok's office.

POM     Were they sitting beside you?

PB     No they weren't.

POM     When did they come to talk to you?

PB     After the Security Council meeting.

POM     And then they say?

PB     They were unhappy.

POM     And they hadn't been at the meeting.

PB     They hadn't been at the meeting. I think they heard from Adriaan Vlok. They heard from Adriaan – now this is my own speculation.

POM     OK. So what we have now is the National Security Council meeting, point A. We've got you in point B. We've got Basie Smit and General van der Merwe someplace else. Then you don't know what went on at the National Security Council?

PB     No.

POM     But somebody comes and tells you what?

PB     Well the meeting ends. Imber and I ended up in a discussion in another room with Basie Smit and General van der Merwe. Kobie Coetsee was not there.

POM     He was in the Security Council meeting.

PB     He left, I think the meeting had finished by then and Vlok had left and Vlok had obviously told those two police Generals that the Security Council don't want a prosecution. That's my speculation, that's my inference.

POM     Who did you get that from?

PB     I got that from Van der Merwe. It seems that he had been given to understand by Vlok that there was going to be great difficulty.

POM     That's fine, I can check that, OK.

PB     You can check that? Right. Then I had lunch.

POM     So you are quite sure, this is important, you are quite sure that a meeting of the State Security Council happened, that you were adjacent to it, that it adjourned and that it was discussing this matter.

PB     Oh it was certainly discussing the Vula revelations, the evidence that had been discovered.

POM     Then that afterwards –

PB     But they were discussing what to do because – now this is the part we don't know, you may know, I don't know, I don't know what went on in that Security Council meeting. You see we know now with the benefit of hindsight and with other writings, we know now that there was horse trading at the time, that the government was speaking to the ANC at forums other than the Groote Schuur talks and the Pretoria talks. There were deals being done behind the scenes.

POM     What deals were those?

PB     We don't know.

POM     Well I don't know. What deals?

PB     This is a subject for research.

POM     What do you think – where, with whom?

PB     It would have been with people like Mandela, Slovo.

POM     Now Mandela did the Pretoria Minute on August 7th.

PB     Yes.

POM     He visited Mac in jail on August 8th when he was in Sandton. This is when all Nyanda's stuff was unrolling off the table, all the stuff he had not encrypted. This is when you are preparing your case and you're preparing your case not against Maharaj, you're preparing your case against Nyanda.

PB     I was preparing a case against – I had in mind nine accused.

POM     Yes, but they were done separately. There were two cases.

PB     Nyanda was arrested and then he was produced in court.

POM     At the application for bail.

PB     And he applied for bail.

POM     Were you at that?

PB     Yes.

POM     Good. That's what I want to talk about.

PB     I argued the bail application, I opposed bail.

POM     And at that time he was charged with possession?

PB     What was written on the charge sheet – look, that I don't know. One would have to look at the court record and of course that might have been destroyed. Now when I'm talking about court record I'm talking about not the tapes –

POM     When we began this evening, when I walked in here, I said Nyanda went into the witness box and said, "I am Vula and I disclosed everything", and you said, "Yes, yes, yes, that's what he did." Because I said he was just merely charged with possession of firearms and you said, "Yes, yes, yes, he wanted to be charged with much more."

PB     He did.

POM     That's right, OK, but then you went there and –

PB     Let's get this clear. You're jumping the gun now. We're still in Pretoria. By the time we left Pretoria Imber whose, in theory, discretion would determine what forum Nyanda would be charged in and with what charges, had been told that it was to be possession of firearms.

POM     That's because Kobie told you that.

PB     Yes. And presumably this fitted into some strategy of the State Security Council. So we came back and I went to see the Security Police on the Monday. They were all anxious to know what had happened in Pretoria. So I told them, "Look, it seems that we're going to have to produce him in court. He can't stay a Section 29 detainee. We're going to have to produce him in court and charge him with something and there'll be a bail application and I understand that he's going to be charged with possession of firearms." Of course they were utterly amazed. It's coming back to me now. I think that 22 August, we can check on calendars but I think it was a Tuesday, I went down to Durban. The hearing was in the afternoon. It was about lunch time, I don't know how the phone call went, whether they phoned Imber and Imber phoned me, but I got informed at lunch time that you can feel free to charge Nyanda with Section 54. Whether we left – look, that could always be added as a second charge. The charge sheet could contain numerous charges and if we'd already written on there 'possession of firearms' it would always have been possible to add 'Count 2 – contravention of Section 54 of the Internal Security Act'.

POM     But when he went into court he was charged with –

PB     Yes. My recollection is he was charged with possession. That's the charge he was facing and we hadn't yet added Section 54.

POM     And he got upset.

PB     Did he get upset? What upset him was my cross-examination. I don't know that –

POM     Now if he was being just there for possession of firearms, why would he have to be cross-examined?

PB     It was a bail hearing. The purpose of the proceedings on that afternoon was for the court to determine whether he could be released on bail and, if so, how much and what the conditions of bail would be.

POM     But the charge was –

PB     He was the Applicant applying for bail.

POM     On the charge of possession of firearms.

PB     And we were the state opposing bail. You see the purpose of cross-examining Nyanda was not, I don't know –

POM     Wouldn't he have to go into the box voluntarily?

PB     Yes, the onus would be on him. He would have to –

POM     He would have to go into the box.

PB     And he gave evidence and his evidence in chief was that, "I am Siphiwe Nyanda, I've been arrested", I can't recall exactly what he said but I seem to think it was on the basis of, "If I am released on bail I will most certainly return to stand my trial, if there is to be a trial because I am given to understand that all of us will be indemnified." It was something of that sort of arrogant nature. Now the purpose of the cross-examination was –

POM     Now he didn't have to go into the box.

PB     He did, he gave that evidence from the witness box.

POM     But if he was applying for bail on a charge of – his lawyer was there and his lawyer says, "My client pleads not guilty and we apply for bail of such-and-such." So why does he have to go into the box to do anything?

PB     In support of his bail application. At that stage the onus was on the applicant for bail to satisfy the court that his release on bail would not prejudice the interests of justice by absconding or tampering with evidence or intimidating witnesses. Yes, his lawyer could have made the application and simply addressed the court from the bar but it carries more weight if the applicant for bail gives viva voce testimony.

POM     Why would they do that?

PB     I don't know. They chose to call him and when they chose to call him we had the right to cross-examine him.

POM     Did he know that he may say, "I want to be called"?

PB     I don't know what was said between him and Yunus Mohammed.

POM     I'm saying that that could have happened.

PB     It might have happened.

POM     He is the one who can answer that.

PB     I think it was Yunus Mohammed.

POM     It was, yes.

PB     He called Nyanda to give evidence in support of the bail application. I then cross-examined Nyanda. The cross-examination of Nyanda really just – we put to him what we discovered. We showed the court that you're not a stranger to false passports and going under different names, wearing disguises, wearing wigs. We produced some of the wigs in court. He recognised the wigs. The argument was simply that what credence, how much weight can be attached to the contention of someone who says if released on bail I will not abscond, I will return to stand my trial, if the very person who says that for the last few years has been running round with false passports in disguises using false names and living underground. And of course for the newspapers this kind of thing was very dramatic and so they all wrote about it, they got to see the wigs and they photographed the wigs and the false passports and that kind of thing and bail was refused. The investigation continued and I don't know what happened in Pretoria but we continued building up or working up a case that would be presented on the basis of a charge of contravening Section 54 and various other accused were added including Mac Maharaj, Pravin Gordhan, various others, down to some lowly little people.

POM     He collects your taxes.

PB     Who does? Oh, Pravin Gordhan.

POM     He's very careful about it. Never say anything about a tax man, OK.

     Mrs.B     Particularly since we live next door to a tax inspector. We're very friendly with him.

PB     We continued working up a case that we would present. Ultimately the other accused were joined as accused, they appeared in the Regional Court. The case was postponed for further investigation. I think they applied for bail then. Ultimately we agreed on bail. Well the highest amount was for Nyanda. The next amount down was Mac Maharaj, right down to I think number nine, I forget his name, was only R5000.

POM     Did he feel bad? The person who was on R5000, did he feel kind of – I suppose he's just as important as everybody else.

PB     I imagine it made him feel fairly unimportant.

POM     There's one thing again to get clarity on, is who put Nyanda into the box? It would have been his lawyer.

PB     Yes, Mohammed would have – Yunus Mohammed would have called him.

POM     So it is possible and I'll check this out, so you'll get it back in the transcript, that Nyanda would have said, "I'm not a sixpence guy who merely is going to be charged with firearm theft, I'm bigger."

PB     He wouldn't have said those words. That would have been his attitude.

POM     Did he strike you as that?

PB     It did strike me that that was his attitude. No doubt that's why he was such a pushover to cross-examine because no doubt I did him a favour producing the false passports and the wigs. It showed the public, in his view of things, showed the public what a great man he was. So after that I continued building up a case but intuitively I knew that we would never, that the day would never come when they stood in court and the charges put to them and we'd go through a trial having to prove this. And of course if we'd had to it would have been quite a sweat to do it.

     I don't know whether Mac Maharaj has told you this, I heard down the grapevine that Slovo was allowed to visit – well by then they were awaiting trial prisoners, they weren't Section 29 detainees or anything, if they ever were Section 29 detainees.

POM     Well Mac got into St Aidans.

PB     You know about Billy Nair?

POM     He got there too and very nearly had a heart attack.

PB     Billy Nair also couldn't bear being left out and pitched up himself and basically said, "Please join me as an accused." I heard down the grapevine that Slovo met with them and that they'd said to Slovo, "What's going on? Why are we still in detention? Why are we still in custody awaiting trial because we're supposed to be indemnified and what's going on in the negotiations with the government?" And I'm told or I heard down the grapevine that Maharaj – that was a meeting that brought all the Vula accused together outside the context of court so they were able to discuss things privately, Maharaj said, "If we're ever charged or if we are ever made to face this charge, we will deny everything and we will make them sweat to prove it and then when they've proved it we'll say yes that's right, that's what we did." Has he told you that?

POM     No. But I tell you if I tell him that story he will say, yes I did it. If it's only a rumour he will confirm the rumour since it reflects good on him.

PB     So I continued working on this case. I'd really lost all motivation by then because I knew it would never come to court and of course, ultimately, they were indemnified, the whole lot of them were indemnified. Kasrils, who hadn't even surfaced yet was indemnified, he was given an indemnity as well. Red Ronnie.

POM     Ronnie was so thrilled about being underground that even when he got indemnification he wouldn't surface. He preferred to be –

     Mrs.B     He enjoys the limelight now. They all do.

POM     Of course he does. What do you mean? Of course they do.

     Mrs.B     And they like the money that goes with it.

POM     Of course they do. What do you think they would do?

     Mrs.B     We'd be the same wouldn't we? They haven't done too much for the fellow citizens that they promised all manner of things.

POM     I want to talk to Jane. Do you mind if I come back and visit you again in January? I'll be out of the country and then I'll be back but in the meantime this transcript will be sent on to you so you can look over it and anything you want to –

PB     I'm sorry, it's probably going to be a little bit incoherent.

POM     Don't worry about that.

PB     The transcriber will –

POM     No. Let me tell you what I do. Everybody gets back a copy of their transcript and they can go through it for content. Sometimes people say things the way they don't want them said, so I won't quote you on Kobie Coetsee and things like that.

PB     He's dead and gone isn't he? No-one can sue me for defaming him.

POM     We'd never do that, OK. We'd never do anything at all like that.

PB     I don't mind if you do. That part can go in the book.

POM     But I want you to go through it and anything you want to correct, not as a matter of fact but as a matter of where you stated something. Do you follow me? You say, I made a mistake here, I circumvented myself, because people talk like this, talking off the top of their heads about events that happened 13 years ago, so I'm always scrupulously fair about that. That's part of my own integrity as a researcher.

PB     Before you speak to Jane, I said I was going to come back to the policemen. You wanted to know who were the policemen.

POM     Was Basie Smit a big man at that time?

PB     No, I didn't see much of Basie Smit. The head of the Security Branch in Durban was Steyn, Brigadier Steyn. Redhead, ginger haired fellow. I heard rumblings of he'd said something at the Truth Commission or Truth & Reconciliation.

POM     I've got it OK. I've got him.

PB     Didn't Charles Ndaba and someone else disappear and die?

POM     Two of them got killed. These were the two MK people who were killed and whose bodies disappeared and have never been recovered.

PB     I heard in later years that that had surfaced and I don't know whether Steyn applied for indemnity. But the head of the Security Branch in Durban was Steyn. Then the officer who seemed to be in charge of this investigation was Major de Beer. There were two De Beer brothers. The one was Zen de Beer and the other was, I can't remember his first name, it wasn't Zen de Beer. The younger brother De Beer was a great power lifter and building up his body. He was a Captain at that stage. It's a tragic case, he was grooming himself to become an expert on the ANC along the lines of Brigadier Stadler (I don't know if you've heard of Brigadier Stadler at all?)

POM     Yes I have.

PB     And then of course on 2 February when all these organisations were unbanned, all that studying and research and intelligence became absolutely worthless. Captain de Beer had spent years making himself an expert on something that no-one would need experts on any longer. I don't know how he coped with that. I haven't spoken to him since. But I, myself, after February 2nd when the organisations were unbanned, took an immense amount of paper and just threw it away. It was research that was now useless. But anyway, I'm rambling again.

     Mrs.B     We held a party at some friend's place and we took a coffin. This was to –

PB     That was in 1994.

     Mrs.B     That was the date of the election.

PB     This was before that, February 2nd. Anyway the other policemen, Hentie Botha, was involved in the investigations, Captain Botha. And of course, I wonder if he was, there were different branches, different offices. Some people worked on the PAC, some people worked on the ANC. They had a common tea-room so we'd meet everyone. There was Andy Taylor, you know Andy Taylor at all? Captain Andy Taylor?

POM     Where does one find him?

PB     He's dead now and when he was buried, he died of cancer and I recall reading an article in the Sunday Times that was very sarcastic and spoke about how it had an almost Boys Own Annual tone, there was a wreath put on the grave and it had a card that said, "To Captain Andy Taylor, you will be missed by your boys." That captured the imagination of the Sunday Times writer that this group of security policemen regarded themselves as Captain Taylor's boys. But that's just by the by. I'm trying to remember the others, I can't remember many in fact.

     Mrs.B     How many people can you get hold of?

PB     You know, since then we've all gone our separate ways.

POM     I'll come back because I know it's getting late but if you invite us back, OK. In the meanwhile I'll have a copy of this sent to you so you'll have it and you can go through it yourself.

     Let me just ask you, now don't look at your Dad or your Mum, you live in South Africa, do you like it?

JANE     I do.

POM     Are you proud to be South African?

JANE     I'm proud to be a South African.

POM     Do you find like when your Dad and I go on about the past, I'm an historian so I have to do this stuff because that's why I do it, but do you find that when people go on about the past it's a bit boring and you want to get on with your life?

JANE     No, I find it very interesting.

POM     How would you regard Nelson Mandela?

JANE     Um, well my sort of sentiments on people like this are a bit muddled and confused because I've got what I hear from my parents, then I've got what I read in the history book at school and then on TV, you know what I mean. So I'm not really sure. But he seems to be a very articulate, intelligent man.

POM     Are you proud of him? Are you proud that he's your leader?

JANE     Yes.

POM     Or do you consider him your leader?

JANE     Well he's not any more, he's not President any more. He's getting a bit old. But yes.

POM     And when you go to school are there black children?

JANE     Yes.

POM     And how are they? Is it a private school?

JANE     Yes it is a private school. There's a bit of self-imposed apartheid that goes on at the school. It's not hostile or anything.

POM     No, no, that's nice.

JANE     Every now and again there's a bit of animosity.

POM     But kids keep to their – white kids keep to white kids and black kids keep with black kids.

JANE     But sort of like there's a place in the classroom where the black kids will go and where the white kids will go. That's the way it is. And nobody, it's not like a hostile thing. That's the way it works.

POM     Is it a boarding school?

JANE     Yes.

POM     Boarding and - ?

JANE     Yes, it's boarding and a day school.

POM     So are you home for holidays?

JANE     I'm a day girl.

     Mrs.B     She's a day girl because the school is just a kilometre or two away.

JANE     I was a boarder for a bit though.

POM     Was it the same in - ?

JANE     Probably more so in the hostel because there were more blacks. It was probably about 60/40 in the hostel and it's about 20/80 in the school. So the divide was more evident.

POM     So do you see yourself as having a future here?

JANE     Well –

     Mrs.B     I'm waiting to hear if she tells you what she always tells me.

JANE     I want to study drama so I don't think I do because South Africa is a bit of a cultural backwater. Obviously I see myself ending up in Britain or America, but if I was interested in law then I would see myself as having a future here.

POM     What age are you now?

JANE     18.

POM     Are you going to go to college next year?

JANE     Not next year.

POM     Taking a year off?

JANE     Yes.

POM     What are you going to do?

JANE     SAT –

PB     The SAT exams and then try to go to an American university.

     Mrs.B     She wants to go to your part of the world.

POM     When I come back here, do your CV or whatever and maybe I can help you. Drama is, no matter what SATs you get, getting accepted from here to drama in the United States is just hard.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.