Aubrey Welken, a South African Secret Service agent imprisoned for a year in Zimbabwe, arrived at Johannesburg International airport on Tuesday.
Addressing a brief press conference with Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, Welken said it had been his own decision to cross from Zambia into Zimbabwe, where he was arrested on December 10 last year.
”I did it because of operational needs and because of my own decision as an operator, in order to make sure that I did what I had to do.”
He had reportedly been lured into entering the country.
Kasrils, who flew to Harare with Welken’s wife, Elmarie, to fetch him, told the press conference Welken will be returning to Zimbabwe of his own accord to be present at a trial related to his arrest. The trial is that of one of his sources.
”We undertook that he would be there, if necessary, to assist in the proceedings.”
Speaking to the media, the middle-aged Welken, with shoulder-length grey hair, said: ”It was a tough time, but I am okay.”
Asked how he had been treated in custody and whether he had been tortured in Zimbabwe, he replied: ”Any interrogation needs to follow a certain process, but as you can see, I am well … I have all my limbs.”
He said questioning was done ”in a normal and professional way”.
”That’s all I am prepared to say,” he said.
Welken allegedly paid his Zimbabwean contacts to report on tensions within President Robert Mugabe’s government. He was reportedly attempting to recruit the head of Zimbabwe counter-intelligence.
Following Welken’s arrest, 15 prominent Zimbabweans were arrested and charged, including Philip Chiyangwa (Zanu-PF’s provincial chairperson), Godfrey Dzvairo (Zimbabwe’s designated ambassador to Mozambique), Tendai Matambanadzo (a banker) and Itai Marchi (Zanu-PF director of foreign affairs).
Kenny Karidza, security director of Zanu-PF, was also questioned.
In a trial that took place in camera, Dzvairo was sentenced to six years in prison and Matambanadzo and Marchi to five years each.
Chiyangwa was temporarily released, but could be charged again later.
Erasmus Moyo, a Zimbabwean diplomat in Geneva who was also allegedly implicated by the five, disappeared from an airport in Switzerland shortly before he could be extradited to Zimbabwe.
Kasrils told the press conference the affair had been a test of maturity of relations between the two governments.
”The fact is that a rapport does exist between the governments … that one is able to strike a chord on the basis of the liberation experience is a very strong factor.
”It doesn’t mean wiping out criticism of one another, but we are able to relate.”
He said the government was able to contain the issue ”within its own shell” without it causing long-term repercussions.
”Relations are not affected,” he stressed, adding that the quiet diplomacy South Africa engages with Zimbabwe is paying off.
Kasrils added that his Zimbabwe counterpart, Dydimus Matasa, had acted ”in a very Christian way” to allow Welken home so that he could spend Christmas with his family.
”He could well have maintained he [Welken] was needed there until the trial was complete.”
Welken, whose codename was Andrew Brown, had already been identified by his real name in press reports since his arrest.
Earlier on Tuesday, Zimbabwe’s media had exposed him during the handover, prompting the South African intelligence ministry to present him to the media rather than hold an off-the-record press conference as had been planned.
However, no ”operational questions” were answered at the press conference.
”It’s an unusual break from intelligence tradition,” said ministerial spokesperson Lorna Daniels. — Sapa