/ 15 December 1989

Secret papers hold ‘hit squad’ key

State Security Council document which gives details of the establishment and function of police and military ”special forces” and could provide the key to the ”hit squad” scandal. The document, believed to be entitled ”Constitution and Functions of the Special Forces”, was stolen by a soldier from the psychological unit of the Department of Military Intelligence (DMI) nine years ago. It is believed to outline the structures in which the ”hit squads” operate, tracing them up to the SSC, which was then led by President PW Botha and included a number of senior cabinet ministers or their deputies. 

Although Weekly Mail does not· have the document, state investigators should have easy access to it: it is part of the court records of two Official Secrets Act trials in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court that took place in 1980/1. The authenticity of the document is not in question – the state itself argued that its content was so sensitive that possession of it was illegal. The trials were held in camera and the state argued that the document was so explosive that not even the defence lawyers should see it. After legal argument, they agreed to show only parts of it to the lawyers in order to secure their agreement on an in camera ruling. It is believed that it was marked ”secret” and was intercepted on its way to a shredder in the DMI psychology unit. An SADF soldier, Corporal Gerhard van der Werff, who worked in the unit, was tried and convicted for this.

In exchange for a comparatively light sentence, Van der Werff gave evidence against his then lover, University of the Witwatersrand student activist, Ben Grey ling. Greyling was in custody, facing trial with three other Wits students caught putting up South African Communist Party posters and tried in early 1981. It was when he was arrested on this charge that police raided his home and found the DMI document. He was acquitted on charges under the Official Secrets Act in connection with the document, but he and the other three students served 10 days in prison for furthering the aims of the Communist Party. 

The Weekly Mail cannot reveal details of the document that emerged in the trials because of the in camera ruling. However, Weekly Mail this week made contact with Grey ling, who has been granted political asylum in the US and now lives in San Francisco.

According to Greyling, he had gathered information dealing with:  

  • Secret funding for the ”special forces” so that they would not need to answer to parliament, but only to the SSC, regarding their secret operations. Normal state funding channels were not to be used in the case of special operations and secret funds were set up for these purposes. 
  • Recruitment of operatives from the ranks of the South African Defence Force, the South African Police and other branches of the civil service. Recruits were subjected to stringent testing at state-run psychological units. Among other things, they were tested on ”aggression quotients” which were made up from such factors as whether or not there was a history of instability, alcoholism or divorce in the candidate’s family. The presence of these factors would count in a candidate’s favour, according to Greyling.
  • Destabilisation techniques and the running of secret operations in neighbouring states.
  • The use of disinformation and propaganda techniques in raising morale among the general armed forces. 

All of this ties in with information already in the possession of Weekly Mail and other newspapers indicating that the dirty-tricks squads were not the work of a few maverick policemen, nor of the far rightwing, but part of a systematic state strategy of counter-revolutionary warfare. The military has previously admitted a number of illegal activities, justifying them – in the words of Defence Minister Magnus Malan – as ”necessary for the efficient defence and protection of the Republic”.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


M&G Newspaper