Mac Maharaj has released secret NIS files to challenge those destroying information. But the files are surprisingly inaccurate, reports Anton Harber
TRANSPORT Minister Mac Maharaj has released three volumes of stolen National Intelligence secret files as a challenge to those who, he says, are destroying security information to hinder the work of the Truth Commission.
The “Maharaj files” — dated 1980 and packed with information about what NIS knew about ANC underground networks — were taken from NIS during the ANC’s Operation Vula in the late 1980s, Maharaj says.
The three thick files give a fascinating insight into what the government knew about the ANC underground, the methods the security forces relied on to gather information and, in particular, their surveillance of the “Schoon network” — the operation run from Botswana by ANC operatives Marius and Jeannette Schoon.
“I am aware that files are being destroyed and tampered with to make the ANC afraid of the Truth Commission,” Maharaj said this week, explaining his decision to release the documents. “I am signalling that we have the capacity to compare information and know what they have,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj, who was a senior figure in the ANC underground and a leader of Operation Vula, handed over the documents to the Mayibuye Centre at the University of the Western Cape last week. “I’m saying, don’t blackmail us and believe we are scared of the truth … When the truth comes out, those who dare to blackmail us better remember, there are more volumes,” he said.
Maharaj said the files “have a lot of lies in them … When I first saw them I was surprised at how little information they had and how inaccurate it was.”
He said he had seen the files before they were used to interrogate him during his last detention, in 1990. “I was able to laugh within myself because I had read the volumes they were using. And the volumes are quite wrong, so it gave me a great pleasure to be questioned by an officer who didn’t know who he was talking to because all he knew was Mac Maharaj from these three volumes.”
The Maharaj files reveal:
* That NIS agent Karl Edwards and security policeman Craig Williamson had succesfully penetrated the “Schoon network” and had identified ANC operatives, such as Barbara Hogan and Guy Berger, well before they were arrested. However, the NIS linked a number of well-known people to them, often on the flimsiest of evidence such as a conversation, a casual letter or an innocent visit. Among those named were Alan Fine, now deputy editor of Business Day, journalists Peter Wellman and Patrick Laurence, well-known lawyers Geoff Budlender and John Dugard, Richard de Villiers, now a spokesman for a major mining house,and Cedric de Beer, now a senior staffer in the Johannesburg City Council health department. Marius Schoon is now a senior staffer at the Development Bank.
* That police were recording conversations in Robben Island prison cells and monitoring every letter and every visitor to pick up clues about ANC operations. But they were flooded with useless information and were trying to develop techniques to sift it.
* NIS placed great importance on family ties, which they believed provided “informal networks” for the underground. Maharaj, however, says the ANC had long since learnt that family networks were too vulnerable.
* NIS believed the ANC’s “internal reconstruction” plan for the 1970s was planned on Robben Island and carried out by Maharaj after his release. But Maharaj says that it was planned long before in exile and was already happening when he arrived there.
* As early as 1980, NIS believed the ANC was “in an admirable functional condition”, “had moved into an excellent strategic position” and was “going from strength to strength”.
* The NIS had identified the ANC strategy of building a united front and suggested this be countered by, for example, circulating leaflets aimed at dividing Indians and Zulus in Natal.
* Border controls were lax. The NIS proposed that computers be installed at all border posts, giving instructions on how individuals should be handled. All members and close friends of political families should be listed, as well as known international anti-apartheid campaigners.
* There was particular concern about ANC activity in the Indian community and the fact that “this department is losing this battle”. The report said the NIS had “very little inside information”Eon the new generation of young Indian activists. But NIS had a plan: “From a behavioural and personality point of view, Indians show a suprising motivation in raising their status and standard of living, and this motivation could be well utilised with regard to agents in the field.”
* That NIS had a grudging respect for Maharaj. In a lengthy analysis of what they knew about him, compiled by Edwards, he is described as “an extreme egotist, but at the same time an extremely dangerous and ruthless opponent”.
Edwards wrote: “His hair style is short and pushed arrogantly to one side … his dress is casual and his whole appearance is designed to give one the impression of a dashing revolutionary …He is a tireless worker and obviously has a large following who idolise him where he puts in an appearance.
“Should the ANC/CP ever lose Maharaj, it would be an extremely harsh practical and psychological blow to them,” he concluded.
Maharaj describes this last sentence as sinister, a subtle instruction to operatives to eliminate him. “You see the jargon of permanent removal. That’s why they tried time and again to kidnap me and kill me.”
A number of those named in the file were later targets of assassinations: Jeannette Schoon and Ruth First were killed by parcel bombs, and Indres Naidoo was the intended target of the bomb that maimed Albie Sachs.
First is named in the report as a key part of the ANC underground, and was later killed. “But there is no way she was part of our structures. She was not involved in the underground,” Maharaj says.
Much of the detail of NIS information was wrong. In one case, they were watching a woman because she had received a letter from the Schoons under an alias. But a cursory knowledge of her family would have told them that this was actually written to a cousin of hers by that name.
In this case, the NIS recommended that her passport be withheld. It is a clear indication of the flimsy evidence on which such decisions were made.