Mercenaries plan Madagascar 'coup'

South African mercenaries have been recruited to reinstate deposed Malagasy president Marc Ravalomanana, security-sector sources have told the Mail & Guardian.

Ravalomanana has been based at a luxury Sandton hotel since fleeing Madagascar in March.

Central to the efforts allegedly are two security operatives who participated in the failed Equatorial Guinea coup attempt five years ago.

Regional bodies have condemned Ravalomanana’s unconstitutional ouster and considered military action, but deferred to the Southern African Development Community.

The latter, chaired by President Jacob Zuma, said two weeks ago that it favoured negotiations and called on all parties to “desist from any violent solutions”.

Three sources connected to the local security sector, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the M&G of the alleged mercenary effort. The M&G also obtained a weapons procurement list allegedly circulated on behalf of the Ravalomanana camp.

Information about the alleged recruitment echoes charges by the new Malagasy regime, headed by former disc jockey and Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina.

Last week Rajoelina was quoted as saying: “There are people who are thirsty for power; there are people who are even willing to come back to power with mercenaries. Everyone is talking about it. And that is what Mr Ravalomanana is busy doing.”

Already before Rajoelina’s accession to power, his camp made accusations about South African mercenary support for Ravalomanana. The M&G has confirmed the presence of three South African “instructors” in Madagascar at the time.

On April 1, days after Ravalomanana’s departure, police reportedly searched the compound of QMM, a Rio Tinto-Malagasy joint venture that mines mineral sands, for mercenaries and weapons caches from South Africa. There were no reports of an actual find.

The pro-Rajoelina press last month made detailed allegations about a mercenary force, supposedly numbering several hundred, being recruited under contract to Ravalomanana by a United States-based private military company and involving South Africans.

Malagasy security forces went on high alert before the country’s Independence Day celebrations last Friday, when a mercenary strike was feared.

The claims include:

  • Two of the M&G‘s sources named two private security operatives—arrested in Zimbabwe en route to the 2004 Equatorial Guinea coup attempt—as central to the Malagasy recruitment effort. We have not published their names, as the claims are uncorroborated. One source claimed both had participated in a planning meeting at a lodge outside Pretoria some weeks ago. The other said he had information about both having been to see Ravalomanana at his Sandton hotel the week before last.

  • A third source spoke of people “trying to book an airlift for a collection of bouncers and thugs to recapture Antananarivo”. He named a person with alleged knowledge of the operation. The M&G spoke to this person, who is politically well connected but whose name is withheld because the allegations are uncorroborated. He confirmed having introduced Ravalomanana to South African politicians but said he had no knowledge of recruitment other than that of personnel to protect Ravalomanana in South Africa.

  • A report by a private intelligence operative last month stated: “Rumours of possible military action are doing the rounds in South Africa — According to these reports Ravalomanana has, with some South African former military elements, been involved in planning a possible retake of the island using South Africa as a staging point.”

  • A “weapons request” obtained by the M&G lists a requirement for hundreds of Raptor assault rifles, Truvelo sniper rifles, thousands of grenades and millions of rounds of ammunition. The list allegedly originated in Swaziland, where Ravalomanana met King Mswati III days after he was ousted. Raptor and Truvelo rifles are locally made.

The marked men

When the Malagasy media outed a group of South African “mercenaries” serving then-president Ravalomanana, they were marked men.

On March 12, with Ravalomanana’s grip on power slipping, newspaper La Verité proclaimed: “The presence of foreign mercenaries on Malagasy soil is no longer false rumours circulated by the local press. They were at the Place du 13 Mai last Wednesday, March 4, giving orders to Malagasy officers.”

The newspaper named five South Africans who had entered Madagascar as guests of Ravalomanana’s presidency. The newspaper speculated that this constituted “high treason” on the president’s part.

The South African embassy wrote to La Verité in response, defending two of the men, “diplomat” Mmatlou Moja and helicopter pilot Mathew Beresford-Carter, pointing out that the former was part of an official South African fact-finding mission and the latter was employed by a private company on long-term contract to the Malagasy government. It said it had no knowledge of the remaining three men. The M&G has established that Moja, the “diplomat”, is in fact employed by the South African Secret Service, which would have had reason to participate in a fact-finding mission. Beresford-Carter told the M&G this week: “I was there purely to be a pilot for the president to fly him around — As far as I’m concerned I was never a mercenary.”

He said that his helicopter was shot at when he was asked to fly an Israeli and a Russian who inspected incidents of unrest. After he was named in the media, he had to go into hiding in the South African embassy. He was “smuggled out” three weeks later, after Ravalomanana was toppled.

The M&G tracked down two of the other men named. Charles Skog, who recruits security operatives and other professionals to work internationally, confirmed taking a team of two to Madagascar, on what would have been a “big contract” to help in riot control and instruct the local military in handling such situations.

He left for South Africa after a week, after which things went “haywire” and he had to get his colleagues out. He denied he was a mercenary. “I have absolutely no interest in red zones.”

Skog’s colleague, Gerhard de Klerk, told the M&G that after being “branded” a mercenary, he and his remaining colleague, Werner Erasmus, were advised by Ravalomanana’s government to “get out as a faction of the military was after us”.

De Klerk described attempting to reinforce protection at Ravalomanana’s palace in Antananarivo and private estate south of the capital and to instruct an “unreceptive” military in riot techniques.

Stefaans Brümmer

Stefaans Brümmer

Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years (a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart), the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy (which he detests), coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung. Read more from Stefaans Brümmer

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