I don’t know who murdered Dulcie September. If I knew, then chances are, that you would too.
This is what I know: Dulcie was murdered on a March morning in 1988, as she prepared to open the door to the ANC office on the Rue des Petites-Ecuries in Paris.
As the ANC’s chief representative for France, Luxembourg and Switzerland, she had held the position since 1983. A warm and stylish woman, in the prime of her life, she was shot five times in the head by a .22 calibre rifle, although some reports say that 6 shells lay at the crime scene. It was a professional hit. She was 52 years old.
Alex Moumbaris, Dulcie’s friend and comrade remembers seeing Dulcie lying there alongside the pile of that day’s post, which stood neatly to one side of her body. He contacted the French Communist Party and together with other organisations with whom Dulcie had worked, they took to the streets that same afternoon. Emotions ran high amongst the over 60,000 people who marched. Parisians had taken Dulcie into their hearts.
I know too, that there have been great difficulties in finding out who murdered Dulcie. In spite of investigations, public, private and for publication into her murder, her family are none the wiser than when they went to Paris in 1988 to bury her.
In 1999, eleven years after the murder, I was approached by Evelyn Groenink, a Dutch investigative journalist and a former member of the Dutch anti apartheid movement to publish her book, the story of her investigation into Dulcie’s murder. Groenink, who has been living in South Africa for many years, went to Paris in 1988 to investigate the murder.
At that time, I knew very little about the ANC’s French representative. I just had an image and a sound from the television in my mind; of the crowds gathered around the murder scene, and the mewling, slightly wonky sound of the French police vans.
Over the following years, I became drawn into the story, into the quest to find out what happened. It dismays me that we were never able to publish Evelyn’s book. This lecture, then, is my attempt at a kind of restitution; it arises out of a desire to place on record what I have learned about Dulcie.
The Ruth First fellowship has allowed me to ask questions about what was so threatening about the prospective publication of Evelyn Groenink’s book. These questions are not just about an unsolved murder and the denial of justice for Dulcie and her family, they are about how truth can be covered up and how the interests of a few powerful constituencies can shift and shape our understanding of history.
Dulcie September was born in Gleemore, Athlone, on the Cape Flats in 1935. As Dulcie’s great friend Alex la Guma described the times and the place: Spring is pouring out all over. Nice weather for ducks, but in many homes there is enough water to float a snoeking fleet.
Dulcie, who trained as a teacher was committed, fastidious, tough and innovative. She would have had to have been. Her father withdrew her from her formal schooling at the recently opened Athlone High School during her Standard 8 year, and it was at the age of 29, while she was in Barberton gaol, convicted of sabotage, that she completed her senior certificate. She continued trying to educate herself. In 1983, then aged 47, she wrote a letter to the ANC Education Secretary Henry Makgothi: If I do not get on to this course then I shall just have to plod along as I am doing now. Dit gaan maar swaar in mens se ou dag.
From the time of her membership of the Cape Peninsula Student’s Union, to the Teachers’ League of South Africa, to her joining the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa, Dulcie’s political outlook strengthened. In 1963 with leaders such as Kenneth Abrahams and Neville Alexander, she formed the Yu Chi Chan Club. The group was, in the delicate words of Pallo Jordan, a ginger group of young militants.
Detention, arrest, torture, and 5 years in gaol were to follow, with a further 5 year banning order which made it impossible for Dulcie to teach. In 1974, at the age of 39, and within days of her banning order having expired, Dulcie had an exit permit and was aboard the Edinburgh Castle to Britain. She returned to her Unity Movement roots and joined the ANC.
Dulcie must have been a complex person. Everyone, bar none, will tell you what a warm and cranky, generous but tough, difficult yet honest, loving and always contrary person she was.
As a full time member of the ANC, Dulcie worked in London and Lusaka, and travelled extensively to conferences and organised. In 1983 she was offered the position of Chief Representative to France, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Her years in Paris coincided with the reigning years of Thatcher and Reagan. And although Mitterand was president, Chirac was prime minister, and cut from a similar cloth as his British and American counterparts. Sanctions were not on the negotiating table for these governments, and Dulcie had a vast job on her hands, mobilising and lobbying for sanctions and disinvestment. The significant progress that she made was halted by her death.
For some time before her murder, Dulcie had been nervous, and not just of the right wing thugs who had mugged her a couple of times. She reported in a telex to Lusaka that Le Pen, the leader of the ultra right has just made mention of the school [SOMAFCO] it [sic] his paper. That is besides saying where I live. Be careful. The struggles continues. It is a sickening thought that Le Pen, who is still alive, had publicised Dulcie’s home address. Dulcie too expressed her deep unease about both the South African and French security forces, especially in the months before her murder. Her appeals to Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua for some security measures to protect her were not acted upon. Pasqua subsequently denied her ever having asked.
In 1999, in the years just after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the story that Evelyn told interested me greatly. Not only had she investigated Dulcie’s murder, but this had led her to look into the murders of Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani.
Groenink had made some breakthroughs in connection with the 1989 murder of Anton Lubowski. She writes: â€œThe Lubowski file shows how French oil and arms interests, an Italian mafia group and elements in the South African military tried to corrupt Lubowski, Swapo’s investment man. Months before that, Lubowski was approached by Italian Mafioso, Vito Palazzolo, and French arms trader, Alain Guenon, for the delivery of some services: Palazzolo wanted casino rights in Namibia and Guenon wanted Lubowski to support an oil transport project (a railway line from Angola to Namibia) in which he had a stake.
Evelyn recognized the name of Alain Guenon since she had come across it in her investigation into Dulcie’s death. Her articles on Lubowski and Guenon were published in The Namibian and the Mail and Guardian in 1999.
At our very first meeting I knew that I wanted to publish the book, and almost immediately commissioned a cover design. After receiving the completed manuscript, I realised that I may have been a bit hasty, and instead, I should be putting my energies into finding a good lawyer. Still, the cover looked powerful, and was to appear, ever hopeful, in no less than 4 of our annual<br /> catalogues.
It is as well to be an optimist if you find that you’re a publisher. It is also just as well to believe in what you are publishing.
The story that Evelyn told was startling. In brief, her thesis was that Dulcie came upon some information which got her killed. Aziz Pahad, who worked for the ANC in London, had told Evelyn that Dulcie stumbled on nuclear issues”.
Evelyn’s investigation led her to the intricate network and seamy business world of ex-sanctions busters, military confreres and oil and minerals specialists. These same people now serviced a new elite, and were of course, not happy to have their old ways raked up and their new ways looked over. In particular, her investigation led her to scrutinise several of the gentlemen of La Francafrique and their fixers and enablers here in South Africa.
La Francafrique is a term used to describe how businessmen who are usually involved in oil, nuclear energy, mining, arms and government, carved up anew, the already whittled down resources of African states who were willing and able to do business. Achille Mbembe calls it a “system of reciprocal corruption tying France to its African feudatories.
As Evelyn told it, Jean-Dominique Taousson, veteran soldier of the French Algerian war and ex-editor of the Courrier australe parlementaire, who then worked for Interior minister Charles Pasqua, known as France’s top cop, was aware of a planned attack on Dulcie before her murder. Evelyn’s source for this was himself a top cop.
Taousson’s old magazine incidentally, was paid for by the South African National Intelligence Service, and Taousson supplied them with information on a regular basis.
Because of the people Evelyn was looking for answers from, she and I met with lawyers often, and together we devised a strategy which, we hoped, would get us into a strong enough position to publish. In order to do this, we were advised to fact check within an inch of our lives, and to get comprehensive comment from all those concerned. If someone, anyone, disagreed with what Evelyn put to them, then their rebuttal would be duly noted and printed in the book.
This process turned out to have all the appeal and some of the fright, of the minor blood sports. We embarked on a vast fact checking project, where basically everyone we asked denied everything that was asked of them in very inventive ways.
When the replies started coming in, they were invariably from lawyers. Some respondents however chose to contact us directly. We were liars, cabbages”, crooks, fifth columnists, quislings and publishers of research information that would only be of interest to other crooks, cabbages” and quislings.
The founder of one of the biggest private suppliers of soldiers to the Iraq war, and a competitor of Blackwater and Haliburton called me out of the blue. In a calm and reasonable manner, he threatened us with a legal action which would close us down, were Evelyn’s contentions ever to be published. On another occasion, we were told that the Scorpions were on their way to our offices, (they never pitched), and one former provincial premier laughed angrily and told me that I would make him very, very rich. One morning, wife of someone who had been asked for comment called. She told me that I had torn their family apart, and that I would personally be held liable for the breakdown of their lives. A former government minister known for evoking frissons of delight in women, called and offered this: I want to warn you my dear, the world is a very dangerous place. Indeed I tingled.
A court case brought by Withold Waluz, brother of Janusz, wanting full access to the manuscript, in fact, wanting seizure of all the material to be published destruction of the matter, and […] punitive costs, caught us unaware. Waluz had been approached for comment, and this was the reply. But we won the case on the basis of having been fair in our approach to Waluz, thus upholding his constitutional right to dignity and on the basis of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.
Winning the court case was not enough. I was spending increasing amounts of time on the book, and despite winning the case with costs, the entire project soaked up more money and resources than a small publisher could afford. We decided not to go ahead with the publication. As a publishing firm who staked our reputation on a fierce independence, it was a painful and disquieting decision to take.
Independent publishing and the determined dissemination of information was, after all, an integral part of the fight for freedom. Skotaville, COSAW, Ravan, David Philip, the university presses, Lovedale, Taurus, African Writers Association, all had the bravery and smarts to turn secrecy and suppression on its head. Here we were, six years into freedom, and we were shushed.
It was clear that powerful interests were uneasy. And those powerful interests were considerably bigger than us. Their reactions and their threats scared me, but also led to a great curiosity. I became captivated by the idea of Dulcie’s desk, and that if I could find out what she was working on at the time of her murder, what documents lay on that desk, it might help me to understand the powerful interests which had effectively shut down the project. As a publisher, it was maddening to think that we had rolled over. But worse still, was the worrying accumulation of evidence that there were other silences and gaps when it came to the life and death of Dulcie September.
In trying to find out what was on Dulcie’s desk at the time of her murder, one of the archives I visited was the one at Fort Hare, curated by Mosanku Maamoe.
There I found extensive and comprehensive files, notes and handwritten documents relating to sanctions busting, arms sales, oil sales and the companies and people involved. Amongst her handwritten notes were fragments of sentences. Often, call Abdul”, or Spoke with Abdul”.
Abdul, is Abdul Minty, Dulcie’s close friend and comrade. He ran the World Campaign against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa. There were train timetables and phone numbers and a photocopied label from a carton of navel oranges, bearing the name of the chemical thiabendazol, and the French supplier.
Undated note; 1. Name of ship on arrival in Durban: Nema. Flying under Panamanian flag. Made 5 trips. Need to know when they arrived in Durban.
Comprehensive notes were there too, in her careful handwriting, most especially regarding her visits to Switzerland: Switzerland”, Loans to SA”, Second largest investor in SA. Role in giving SA credit. Swiss banks have unofficial transactions in gold with SA. Swiss representative with SA at nuclear meeting. (nuclear waste). And then, typically, something practical: (a) Bank campaign”, protest in front of banks”. Bills of lading took up several archive boxes. Some photos were scattered amongst her papers. Dulcie, squinting on a bright day. Unveiling something. At a long conference table, listening. Toasting her ankles in the sun.
Going through the diary of her last appointments, I found myself in a reverie that involved her missing the train back from the last place she’d been, and not being in Paris on March 29th. The only thing is, that were she alive, she’d have been difficult and contrary and honest about my running scared.
Then, an item from 1985, a copy of a letter from the National Security Council, Office of the Special Counsellor of the Head of State, Kinshasa, entitled: Organisation of Commando Groups, caught my eye. The letter shows that specially trained commandos were recruited, taking into consideration their psychological and physical characteristics, their ethnic and linguistic particulars and these commandos were sent to the Lubumbashi and Kapanga Camps. Then came the information that a Mr Smith, Deputy Chief at the US Military Mission, and yet another Mr Smith, First Secretary at the US Embassy, would be along soon to inspect the training camps.
Now, there’s something about reading about a couple of Mr Smiths who are going to be inspecting a couple of camps in Zaire that makes the eyes water. Yet, to be honest, I don’t even know if the document on Dulcie’s desk was original. And, I was getting carried away imagining the Smiths, the linguistic and physical profiling and the subsequent ethnic wars in the region. But it told me that Dulcie kept tabs on many things, issues, and events. She was after all, a meticulous schoolteacher. Surefooted.
It was a revelation for me to discover the reports of the Shipping Research Bureau. These pale green bound files, with an elegant logo, hold such powerful information and provide a way of negotiating the labyrinth of South African state oil and arms smuggling in the 1970s and 1980s. Talk about pirates in the Somali waters! These two-bit bureaucratic buccaneers were ten a penny in the years of high apartheid. And they were obsessed with secrecy.
FW de Klerk, in a 1983 speech before parliament said: Any relaxation in respect of secrecy can help spotlight the target and enable our enemies to identify our friends and partners who deliver to us.
As minister of energy and mineral affairs, De Klerk had the backing of the extensive and protective legislation that was in place relating to oil imports. But in general, I wonder if the extent of the state secrecy relating to oil, arms and business dealings, will ever be known? Think of it. Like any crooked business the state must have been running another few sets of account books. Who knows how many?
Amongst Dulcie’s papers there was information on Marc Rich, an American who was the subject of an investigation in the US into tax evasion, racketeering, fraud and trading with the enemy. Through his various companies, Minoil, Marc Rich & Co, Richco Grain, Richco Sugar, and others, over a 6-year period, he supplied South Africa with at least 6% of its total crude oil imports. Rich’s skills were in supplying one pariah nation with oil from another. Much of our oil therefore came from Iran, shipped via many places, and on ships that flew an inventive panoply of flags. Marc Rich & Company became Glencore, one of the largest metals traders in the world. Glencore, with Rich no longer a shareholder, now has a 35% shareholding in Xstrata, which is currently involved in a takeover bid for Anglo American. Rich was pardoned by President Clinton in the dying moments of his presidency.
Was it Napoleon who said that an army marched on its stomach? Well, in the late 20th century, the South African army marched, so to speak, on oil. The state needed more liquid fuel than the Sasol oil from coal project could produce.
De Klerk’s statement on secrecy explains a point that Stephen Ellis of the Free University of Amsterdam makes, and it is that the business dealings of apartheid remain hidden. They were not opened up at the TRC, nor was there any meaningful disclosure by big business.
Evelyn and Dulcie both followed the money trail, the shelf companies and the offshore banking scams. Evelyn looked for answers from the money connections, and for evidence of who would have benefitted from Dulcie’s murder. Dulcie looked for evidence of who benefitted financially from apartheid, and who would resist calls for sanctions and disinvestment at all costs.
Dulcie got up the noses of those with powerful interests. Evelyn had irritated a similar set of noses. Of the three major investigations into the murder, by the French government, the TRC and the ANC, and in terms of what the public has been allowed to know, not one has tackled the possible involvement of Big Oil and Big Arms in Dulcie’s death. Groenink’s investigations, like Dulcie’s, followed the money.
The French investigation report ran to 3,000 pages, and because no new evidence came to light within the ten-year window period of the crime having been committed, the case was closed in 1998. Stephen Ellis, one of the few to have seen the report, says that Jean Paul Guerrier, former member of the Comorean Presidential Guard and associate of the mercenary Bob Denard, instigator of a myriad of coups, was mentioned as the key suspect in the investigation. Eugene de Kock too, points to Guerrier, under the direction of Commandant Dawid Fourie, deputy head of the CCB.
Dulcie’s murder was high on the list of unsolved cases that the TRC wished to investigate. Jan-Ake Kjellberg is a Swedish policeman, deployed by the Swedish government to work for the TRC. Throughout this time, he was the only one who worked on apartheid era international investigations. “It was unbelievable”, he says, “because they [the death squads] were so active in neighbouring states and in Europe”. Kjellberg feels that he was hindered from investigating certain matters, and the September case was certainly one of them. Yet he says that there are people alive who know exactly what happened to Dulcie September, and the window of opportunity for pushing them to come forward has been lost. The TRC was that window of opportunity. While he says that the TRC achieved many good things, it was weak when it came to investigating the military and the business sectors. There were factions in the TRC, some who wanted reconciliation at all costs, and who were not prepared to allow deep investigation into the facts. Why was there was neither full disclosure nor a thorough investigation of the military and business sectors at the TRC? Perhaps the preceding years of secrecy and ambiguity had forged a link that, if broken, would destroy all around it?
The failure of the TRC and the South African state to hold Big Oil, Big Arms and Big Business to account, allowed for a continuation of the rot which we saw in the arms deal; a rot that persists to our day, and a rot which is, as Mark Gevisser so aptly puts it, the poisoned well of SA politics.
The finding in the Truth Commission final report reads: “While it is not able to make a definitive finding on the assassination of Ms Dulcie September, the commission believes on the basis of evidence available to it that she was a victim of a CCB operation involving the contracting of a private intelligence organisation which, in turn, contracted out the killing”.
The death squads could have killed Dulcie. The late Dirk Stoffberg, who worked for South African intelligence, and who was in Paris at the time of the murder, told Jacques Pauw that he was the brains, so to speak, behind the murder of Dulcie September, paying two French Legionnaires 20 thousand pounds each for the murder.
Ellis and Groenink say that Stoffberg was a fantasist, a mythomaniac, yet, he was indeed in Paris at the time of the murder. The South African military death squads were up to gills in blood. In southern Africa the SADF murdered 4 people in a raid into Botswana on the 28th March, the day before Dulcie’s murder. A month after her death, Albie Sachs was attacked in Maputo, and later in 1988, Joan and Jeremy Brickhill were attacked in Harare. It was a busy year for the South African Defence Force. Busy, brutal and bloody.
Their European division, run by Eben Barlow was busy too. Godfrey Motsepe, the chief representative to Belgium, had recently been shot at, and had narrowly escaped death. Just before Dulcie’s murder, Belgian police found and defused an explosive device at his office.
It is an absolutely extraordinary state of affairs that the CCB, if they were responsible, had contracted out the murder to some other people who then subcontracted it to yet others. Why, when they were content to leave evidence of other murders lying around, would they have been so careful with this murder?
It has been impossible to find out who led the ANC investigation, and thus to know what evidence, if any, came from it. Dr Frene Ginwala, who was Head of the Political Research Unit in the office of President Tambo and based in London at that time, says, “We had to work with the French police, that was, after all, the official investigation”.
I wrote to President Zuma, who, as head of ANC intelligence at the time of the murder, surely would be able to tell me who led the investigation, and what was uncovered. But as yet, although my request has been acknowledged, it remains unanswered.
In this research I have heard that Dulcie was not working on important stuff, that she was not an ideologue, and that she was one of thousands about whom the circumstances of death are unknown. After her murder, friends and comrades asked, Why Dulcie?
In denying my application to the Department of Justice to see their files on Dulcie, the department said: “You will recall that the National Prosecuting Authority has commenced with the prosecution of those persons who allegedly committed serious offences during the conflict of the past. So, is someone finally being prosecuted for Dulcie’s murder? And if so, then why is secrecy still needed? Or does this relate to another prosecution? This is the standard Department of Justice response to repeated requests over the years for access to the Dulcie September files”.
Oliver Tambo declared after Dulcie’s murder: “The African National Congress makes this solemn vow: that these murderers, who today arrogantly strut the globe will be brought to justice. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be next year, but they will be brought to justice”.
Ruth First was a journalist, an investigator and an activist. She, like Tambo, never stopped fighting for justice. And there is a great injustice in being prevented from knowing. As the United States Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant and were we able to shed this light onto the secrecy of Dulcie’s murder, it could help to disinfect the poisoned well of South African politics. And so I would like to conclude this lecture by urging all of you to continue the fight for justice by asking “Why Dulcie?”; to resist the temptation to allow the murder to remain a cold case, and to demand that the NPA reveals what is going on so that justice can be seen to be done.