/ 23 March 2018

How to kill a school teacher

Dulcie would not have been satisfied spending her time on the photo opportunities
Dulcie would not have been satisfied spending her time on the photo opportunities

London, August 1989

Lost in the web of spies and intrigue, I go back to Dulcie. To who she was.

In London I have found Wolfie Kodesh, an old ANC veteran who used to provide cover for Nelson Mandela before the latter’s arrest: Mandela would drive a car with Wolfie in it, pretending to be the “master’s” driver. Much later, Kodesh would meet Dulcie. “She was a formidable individual,” he says, meaning the strict, firm, school teacher-ish characteristics that have also been highlighted by others who knew her. “She would chastise you for leaving the door open. But at the same time she was caring and loving. I do miss her.”

More than others have done, Kodesh elaborates on Dulcie’s abilities as an underground operative. “In Lusaka we knew we were supposed to be disciplined and watchful. We could not just go somewhere without checking out the route, or enter a place without first monitoring who was around, where the windows and exits were located and what was happening around there. We could not drink too much — alcohol would loosen your tongue and you would give things away. Such things endangered human lives. But God, you are human. Sometimes you want to relax, to forget. You can’t always be on the alert. Except Dulcie. She was always conscious of the enemy, of the danger. She would never let her guard down.”

Kodesh is upset at the description Dulcie’s former colleague in Paris, Abdou Berrada, gave of her: a stupid woman, who fought with everybody. “Very harsh, that. It’s true that she would chastise you. It could be for bad behaviour, for shoddy or unfinished work, or lack of commitment. But you must remember she was different from most of us to begin with. Coloured, and a woman. Many male comrades would have a group of friends around them. They would have joined the ANC together, from the same school, township or protest march. Dulcie was alone.”

She also had had to battle immense prejudice, he adds. “Male comrades and other men would be patronising towards her. She usually blew her top when that happened.” He grins as he remembers how at a United Nations conference in Switzerland, “some important fellow” spoke to Dulcie in such a manner. “Dulcie gave him a piece of her mind. The man was so shocked that he formally complained to the ANC.” He laughs. “That was Dulcie. Of course she would also have fought a lot in France.” Smiling: “There must have been a lot of shenanigans going on. I don’t blame her one bit.”

Conny Braam had told me how, when Dulcie last visited Amsterdam, she had sat down and wearily held her head in her hands. “They want so many things,” she had sighed, referring to the organisations and institutions she was dealing with in France. “Photo opportunities, openings, cocktails. Using our name as the ANC. But they won’t support us in practice.” She had complained on many occasions how the French kept their merry dealings with Pretoria, too. How even the Mitterrand government did not really treat her as the true representative of the South African people.

Dulcie would not have been satisfied spending her time on the photo opportunities, being paraded as the black woman struggle pet. She would have been serious about attacking the ties between Paris and the white minority regime. That was, after all, her job. Abdul Minty had said she had phoned him, telling him she would send him some information. Minty was the head of the arms sanctions campaign against South Africa. He had phoned me once, long ago, to say that he had checked his mail from the time before Dulcie was killed, but there had been nothing. Whatever she had wanted to send him, it had not arrived.

I ask Kodesh what he thinks Dulcie would have done if she had stumbled on an arms deal between Paris and Pretoria. Kodesh’s friendly old blue eyes beam under a fringe of white hair. “Are you kidding? She would have stopped at nothing. Whatever it was, she wouldn’t have laid off until the bad guys were arrested and shackled. That is how she was.” Pause. “Do you think she discovered something like that, in Paris?” I tell him what Abdul Minty told me.

“It is possible,” Kodesh muses. “More than possible.” Then: “I always thought that the explanation that she was killed because it was so easy to kill a woman alone — as a soft target — didn’t make sense. Not Dulcie. You would kill just about anybody easier than her. To kill somebody silently, you need to surprise them. And you could never surprise Dulcie. I told you. She was the most security-conscious person I ever met. To kill her, they must have had a killer materialise from the wall.”

The theory of a death squad wave directed at soft targets, as put forward by the ANC’s Frene Ginwala and Essop Pahad, is starting to crumble. There haven’t been any victims for nearly one and a half years. There was never in all likelihood a kidnap plot in London. Godfrey Motsepe in Brussels and Masiphula Mbongwa in Amsterdam are still alive. Arms peddler Dirk Stoffberg has — once again — been arrested and interrogated, this time in Zürich, Switzerland, but Swiss police couldn’t find any reason to keep him in custody and he is a free man again. Craig Williamson is an adviser to President FW de Klerk in the State Security Council.

So far, only Dulcie September and Ole Dørum are dead, killed six months and five hundred kilometres apart, in Geneva and Paris. Nothing since then. Two men in raincoats and a drunk driver hardly make up a death squad. Even if you count the guy in Brussels who shot at Godfrey Motsepe — by all accounts an awfully bad shooter — it still doesn’t amount to much.

Where are the death squads? Are they just inefficient? Lazy? Finished? There has to be a motive, a hypothesis linking everything that has happened. Or not? Does it even make sense to look for a masterplan?