SADF threw fake ECC pamphlets from ‘copter, court hears

The South African Defence Force's secret campaign against the End Conscription Campaign involved a series of operations using false number plates, phony addresses and a commercial helicopter commissioned by the army without the knowledge of the minister of defence. This was heard in the Cape Town Supreme Court last week in an urgent application brought by Rein Monnig, 24, Peter Pluddeman, 25, and Desmond Thompson, 20.

The three national servicemen were convicted by a court martial on February 4 of conspiring to disclose military information to an unauthorised organisation, the ECC. They were granted a stay of sentence only hours before they were due to begin 18 months' imprisonment in detention barracks. Mr Justice King granted an order restraining the minister of defence, the commanding officer of Western Province Command, Brigadier AJ de Jager and court martial president ColonelM Dempers from executing the sentence pending review proceedings.

Court records reveal Colonel 33 Claasen, head of the SADF's Communications Operation section at the Cape Town Castle, confirmed the SADF manufactured posters, pamphlets and T-shirts that appeared in Cape Town last year discrediting the ECC. A statement by Pluddeman to support his appeal against sentence included a concession by Claasen that pamphlets manufactured and distributed by the SADF gave a false name and address, "Anti-.Liberal Alliance, 101 Upper Duke Street, Woodstock". In the previous Claasen had also conceded that pamphlets produced by the SADF were dropped over Cape Town's southern suburbs, from a commercial helicopter commissioned by the army, on the day of an ECC fete.

The minister of defence, who had denied the involvement of the SADF, had not been informed of this operation. False number plates hadbeen placed on certain vehicles used to distribute anti-ECC propaganda, "in breach of the law and without knowledge of the police". The court was told that on one occasion when conscientious objector Dr Ivan Toms had caught SADF officials posting up anti-ECC material, the officials were using a vehicle with false number plates, and that they were confronted by police but were "later allowed to evade the police".

The court heard claims the SADF manufactured posters reading "ECC does it from behind" and "ECC members are yellow"; pamphlets alleging the ECC was an "extension of Moscow's web" and assisted the military wing of the ANC; and T-shirts that bore the, slogan "End Communism Campaign". In last week's hearing Pluddeman claimed he would not have a fair trial as "the court martial was constituted by senior officers in the SADF who had spent the major part of their working lives inthe service of the SADF, and whose loyalty was to one master, viz- the SADF.

Claasen had confirmed in court that the ECC was regarded by the whole of the SADF as a hostile organization and stated that a friend of the ECC could not be a friend of the SADF. Pluddeman confirmed and repeated evidence given by a SADF witness that be had acted-out of moral outrage "by what I perceived to be illegalities committed by the SADF against the ECC, and that I was concerned about the interests of the ECC".

He also said the material the SADF considered "sensitive" bad been gathered from the media, "other general reading and in speeches both inside and outside the SADF. Some of it I gleaned from casual conversations with colleagues, and some consisted of my own deductions. One could say that the bulk of such contents was simply common knowledge." In an earlier separate appeal, language teacher Monnig stated that although he was not a member of the ECC, "I understand it to be a lawful organisation which propagates the adoption of alternatives to compulsory military service." He said after his initial arrest he was made to strip to his underpants and stripped of his personal effects.

Monnig, who worked as a journalist at the Castle's Communications Department on Contact, a magazine for coloured children, said he believed he had reasonable prospects of having his conviction or sentence set aside because the information referred to in the charge was not the type contemplated by the Act. "It constitutes either evidence of clandestine operations conducted by the SADF against the ECC unauthorised by the Defence Act – or, entirely anodyne information such as that relating to youth camps."

The three men were convicted by a court martial under the Protection of Information Act, read with the Riotous Assemblies Act of conspiring to disclose sensitive or restricted material to an unauthorised organisation. The review of conviction and sentence will be heard on March 21.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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