Lubowski: Who pulled the trigger?

Was Swapo activist advocate Anton Lubowski assassinated on September 12 1989 because, unknowingly, he was about to expose evidence of mass murder by apartheid authorities, with potentially disastrous consequences for vested economic interests at the time?

Charles Courtney-Clarke, a former associate of the late human rights activist, believes this was clearly the case—and has produced several pieces of evidence he maintains point to a convergence of political and economic interests aligned against Lubowski.

Two previous judicial inquests to unravel Lubowski’s murder raised more questions than answers. The first, held before retired judge Harold Levy in 1993, found that Lubowski was murdered by unknown individuals believed to have been part of the Civil Co-operation Bureau’s (CCB) Region 6 team.

Region 6 was “managed” by Staal Burger at the time; other members were Ferdie Barnard and Abraham “Slang” van Zyl, while Johan Niemoller was responsible for keeping Lubowski under surveillance immediately prior to the assassination, the inquest was told.

Who exactly pulled the trigger has never been resolved: Donald Acheson, an itinerant Irish drifter with mercenary delusions, was arrested shortly after the assassination, but was released by the police after several weeks for lack of firm evidence.

Acheson was widely believed to have been set up and subsequently disappeared from the face of the earth—possibly permanently so. There were also suggestions during the inquest that Acheson was supposed to have been shot while “attempting to escape”—thereby bringing the investigation to a dead end.

Lubowski’s assassination took place three months before Namibia’s independence elections, supervised by the United Nations Transitional Authority Group (Untag). Coming after Swapo invaded northern Namibia on April 1 1989 instead of quartering its soldiers in Angola, it was the straw that nearly snapped the political camel’s back.

Courtney-Clarke, however, rejects the notion that the assassination was an effort to scare former president Sam Nujoma into staying away from Namibia to give other, military-funded, political parties a fighting chance to beat Swapo at the polls.

Instead, like Lubowski’s late father, Wilfried, he holds that the assassination was brought about by the threat Lubowski posed to vested economic interests in Namibia’s mining and fishing industries, which had secret links to senior Swapo politicians.

Wilfried Lubowski went so far as to accuse the Namibian government directly, in the presence of Nujoma, of protecting “someone very high up in the government”.

Courtney-Clarke points to extensive evidence that the security police had not removed any of their wiretaps on Lubowski during the six-month election run-up as they were supposed to. A former security branch constable, known to this reporter, had supplied him with key documents that were supposed to have been shredded. 

Among these was a security branch copy of a list of 200 Swapo guerrillas who, after being captured and interrogated, “had gone flying”. As Courtney-Clark said this week, the list is proof of mass murder by the apartheid authorities.

Courtney-Clarke, who was working with Lubowski on legal measures to reform the apartheid-tainted mining and fishing sectors, said Lubowski was unknowingly threatening to expose this methodical mass murder. Had Swapo known of this, it might have used the leverage to influence final negotiations on touchy issues such as protection of private property.

During Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and Dr Wouter Basson’s trial, it emerged that the apartheid-era security forces often disposed of unwanted witnesses in Namibia by drugging prisoners or killing them with hammer blows to the head. The bodies were later dumped into the sea off Walvis Bay from a small plane.

While the Levy inquest pointed a general finger at the CCB and especially at Barnard and Van Zyl, the Namibian authorities have displayed little enthusiasm so far for pursuing them.

Barnard is serving three life sentences for other murders he committed in South Africa, but as far as could be established, no effort has been made by Namibia to interview him as a witness.

Barnard will soon be eligible for parole, though, and it seems unlikely that he will cooperate with an investigation that could see him charged in Namibia.

But one of Namibian Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa’s own family was among those who “had gone flying”—and the case remains open, her office said.

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