The Askari Who Fooled Modise

Louise Flanagan and Chandre Gould

SEVERAL askaris have died in mysterious circumstances — raising the possibility they are being murdered to stop further exposure of hit squad activities.

Former Vlakplaas commander Colonel Eugene de Kock, currently facing murder and gun-running charges, is alleged to have killed askari Brian Ngqulunga, shot dead during the Harms Commission investigation into hit squad activities.

Former police captain and Vlakplaas commander Captain Dirk Coetzee said in a recent interview Ngqulunga had been very nervous and might have implicated his colleagues if he testified before the Commission.

Coetzee claimed Ngqulunga was executed by fellow askari Simon Radebe, whose loyalty to De Kock he said was unquestionable. Coetzee claimed Radebe took part in the March 1985 murder of UBS security guard Japie Maponya and disposed of the body for De Kock. Radebe went as far as to name his son “Eugene De Kock Radebe”.

Another askari, Glory “September” Sidebe, a former MK member who worked at Vlakplaas for years, died in March this year. An autopsy indicated the cause of death was a heart attack, but several security force sources believe he was poisoned to prevent him from confessing any of his activities to a new government.

Former MK members told the Weekly Mail & Guardian Sidebe was so good at his job that he even fooled Minister of Defence Joe Modise, then a senior MK commander.

Sidebe was snatched from a Swaziland jail by a security police team from Vlakplaas in the mid-1980s. He was “turned” and joined the police as an askari but continued to enjoy the trust of the ANC for years.

“September was running (operating) from South Africa to Nairobi to Mozambique. We suspected (that he was an informer) but there was that friendship which made people trust him,” said an MK member, who asked not to be named. He and a colleague said there was a “very close friendship” between Modise and Sidebe.

After Vlakplaas closed down, Sidebe moved on to work for the military’s clandestine Directorate of Covert Collection (DCC). He was reportedly still working in frontline states for DCC early this year.

“The pathologists in the police draw blood, leave it with the police and buzz off. You can do anything you like, get hold of another corpse, chop up his liver or whatever you like and give it to the doctors,” Coetzee commented when asked about Sidebe’s death.

Other askaris also died in odd circumstances. Some may have been murdered by former MK members in revenge for turning traitor.

Xolelwa Sosha was murdered in a hit squad-style attack in Mdantsane near East London on February 27 this year. Her baby, which she was holding at the time, was slightly injured.

Sosha was linked to the murder of student leader Bathandwa Ndondo at Cala in Transkei together with fellow askari Silulami “Bra” Mose on September 24 1985. She was also alleged to have helped trap and kill guerrilla Lizo “Gift” Macanda and two others in Umtata in February 1988. Mose died, allegedly from a heart attack.

Askari Petrus Johnnie Kwade allegedly committed suicide after driving a truckload of weapons away from Vlakplaaas. Askari John Kwade is also dead.

South Africa’s security apparatus ran as many as 70 askaris. The Goldstone Commission heard that when they were retrenched last year, they received payments of between R200 000 and R600 000, while De Kock received R1,2-million.

It is believed that one askari was paid R900 000 for his part in helping with the parcel bomb intended for Coetzee, but which killed lawyer Bheki Mlangeni instead. Among the charges faced by De Kock is that of Mlangeni’s killing.

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