Details of a major spy case – involving allegations of South African destabilisation of its neighbours so sensitive that the government did not want it mentioned even in an in camera court – emerged this week for the first time.
One of the accused, Trish Hanekom, a Zimbabwe citizen, was released last Friday, one week before the end of her 38-month sentence, and quickly and quietly deported to Zimbabwe. However, in an interview in Harare she told how in 1983 she was part of a three-person spy ring which obtained a trunk-load of top secret documents from the directorate of a special task force. The documents outlined what she says were details of destabilisation operations in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The others in the ring were her husband Derek Hanekom, released from prison last year after serving a two-year sentence, and Roland Hunter, still serving a five-year sentence.
Hunter, she said, had been personal assistant to Colonel Cornelius van Niekerk, who worked out of a building in Pretoria. Van Niekerk headed “Operation Mila”, the code-name for the South African programme of support for Mozambique National Resistance rebels, or Renamo, fighting the Frelimo government, she added.
“Operation Mila” was the model project – regarded as effective and cost-efficient for other operations being run with the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) in Lesotho, Unita in Angola and dissidents in Zimbabwe,” said Hanekom. The spy group had got hold of detailed documents and information laying out:
The use by a civilian organisation of the Hillbrow post office tower to broadcast propaganda for the “Voice of Free Africa”;
Consignments to Renamo of brand new AK47 assault rifles (with their serial numbers erased) from a huge stock of the weapons kept in boxes in a warehouse near Pretoria;
Military co-ordinates and dates for drops of arms and supplies to Re- name camps in Mozambique.
The use of a company, known as “Frama Intertrading” which had an aircraft at an airfield near Johannesburg, as a front lo transport officials involved in “Operation Mila”.
The use of R5 000 to fit out Renamo leader Alfonso Dhlakama and some of his aides with clothing suitable for them to attend a conference in West Germany in 1983;
The payment of wages to senior Renamo officials in camps in the Transvaal, two near Phalaborwa and one north of Pretoria;
The payment of money to Renamo leaders in Malawi.
The Defence Act prevents the publication of further details of information gathered by the spy ring. Much of this information found its way to Mozambican and other security officials in the Frontline states. Hanekom said the information the group had been able to provide to Mozambique in 1983 may wen have been a factor in South Africa’s decision to sign the Nkomati Accord with Mozambique a few months later.
The 30-year-old Hanekom said the severity of the charges against the three were reduced because top members of South Africa’s State Security Council felt they could not risk releasing the highly sensitive documents to court officials, even at an in camera hearing. Instead, the two Hanekoms were charged merely with offences under the Internal Security Act, with possessing banned publications of the ANC and distributing the utterances of listed people.
Hunter was charged under the Defence Act and Protection of Information Act. The Hanekoms now plan to settle permanently in Zimbabwe. Explaining her motivation for becoming part of the ring, Hanekom said: “I am a Zimbabwe citizen, and I have a very strong loyalty. But the future of Zimbabwe is dependent on what happens in South Africa. “If any of what we did assisted the Frontline states to better equip and defend themselves, then, for me, any length of time in prison was worth-while. “I did what I had to do. There was a sense of moral duty. If it was in any way possible to release information, then it was a duty to do so,” she said. – Howard Barrell
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.