/ 9 December 2003

Civil servant shoots holes in Mo Shaik’s story

An experienced Home Affairs official knocked out the last pillars of Mo Shaik’s spy argument against chief prosecutor Bulelani Ngcuka, in his testimony to the Hefer Commission of Inquiry on Tuesday.

Willem Vorster’s testimony drew regular laughter as he offered simple bureaucratic explanations for what Shaik had perceived as sinister circumstances surrounding Ngcuka’s passport and identity document.

Vorster, an assistant director of Home Affairs, had perused the departmental archives at the request of the commission for complete research on Ngcuka. Vorster joined the department in 1979 as an immigrations officer.

Shaik earlier suggested irregularities in the way in which the apartheid government administered Ngcuka’s passport and identity document. He said this strengthened his suspicion that Ngcuka had acted as an agent for that government.

His allegations were backed by former security police officers Bernie Ley and Gideon Nieuwoudt. They maintained in anonymous television interviews that a restriction on Ngcuka’s passport was lifted during the eighties at the request of officials from the former National Intelligence Service.

Ley admitted on Monday that his statements in the e-tv programme created the wrong impression.

Vorster’s testimony on Tuesday revealed that Shaik had seemingly derived the wrong answer from an incomplete search of official documents on Ngcuka.

Vorster denied that the former security police could impose and lift restrictions on passports, as suggested by Nieuwoudt and Ley.

”The security branch did not issue, confiscate or endorse passports,” he said.

”They did not have access to our stop list (which contained names of citizens who were not to be issued passports),” he said. Security police officers could recommend to the erstwhile Department of the Interior that a name be put on the stop list. However, he found no such recommendation in Ngcuka’s file, Vorster testified.

He confirmed that this was not strange, because Ngcuka was detained in 1981 only five days after the security police had given the necessary clearance for his passport to be issued. This clearance was granted on November 25, 1981; Ngcuka was detained on November 30, and his passport was issued on December 10.

Ngcuka should in any event not have been put on the stop list before he was convicted, Vorster added.

He further denied Shaik’s allegation that it was irregular for Ngcuka’s passport to be issued within a month of application.

Vorster explained that few black people applied for passports in those days. The turnaround time depended solely on the particular office’s workload and was therefore not unusual. What drew the most laughter, was Vorster’s explanation of inconsistent identity numbers for Ngcuka and his wife on official documents. Shaik earlier suggested that this indicated a covert attempt to create a new identity for Ngcuka.

Vorster had a far simpler interpretation. He explained that his department’s predecessor did not include the days and months of black people’s birth dates in their reference books. (The apartheid government issued blacks with reference or pass books instead of identity documents.) The reason was that many rural black people did not know their exact birth dates, Vorster said.

When the country’s population registers for different race groups were integrated in 1986, this created a logistical problem. The new combined system refused to accept entries without days and months in the birth dates.

They consequently decided to attribute fictitious dates so that these entries could be integrated. A note was attached for officials to acquire the correct birth date when a particular citizen applied for an identity document. The attributed numbers were also reflected in the affected citizens’ identity numbers.

In Ngcuka’s case the attributed date was corrected only in 1994, Vorster testified. Before that, official documents on him still reflected the fictitious numbers. The same applied to his wife. Commissioner Joos Hefer adjourned the proceedings until Wednesday at 9am, when Ngcuka himself is scheduled to start testifying. – Sapa