SOME time towards the end of November 1990, I received a phone call on my landline of my bachelor flat. I had just woken up and I was still in bed watching the news on TV. I picked up the receiver and heard a booming voice: ‘Kunjani (how are you) Maphepha? I was silent for a moment. I was trying to identify the voice. ‘Who is calling?’ I asked. The voice responded: ‘No man, I thought perhaps we could have a chat for old time’s sake.’ I still could not place the voice. I did not respond. ‘Hi Maphepha! It’s September calling. When can we have a drink, just the two of us?’ Yes! It was September’s voice.
I was startled and became concerned about my safety. How did he know where I was living? Why did he want to talk to me? Was he trying to come back to the ANC and ask for forgiveness? Those questions ran through my mind like an electric current. In the ANC, we all knew that September became a vicious, murdering askari. I was strongly of the view that he was part of the raiding party who shot and killed Viva and other comrades in Swaziland – I personally saw him in the Ezulwini area a few days before Viva and other comrades were killed. We knew that he was in Swaziland to identify, eliminate or kidnap ANC operatives. ‘No September! Let’s drop the idea. I don’t have time for the drink,’ I said. ‘Maphepha, I know you don’t want to be seen with me. But you might find it worth considering,’ he continued. ‘I told you drop the idea. I have no interest,’ I said and put down the phone.
I had to abandon the flat and Ponte City immediately. I became worried that an askari unit might have been deployed to kidnap or shoot me. In those days, returnees were still meeting with mysterious accidents and inexplicable deaths. The strategy of the askaris and impimpis was to quickly eliminate those they suspected or knew had information about their treachery. Their handlers also wanted to suppress evidence that could be used against them. Apart from what I knew from my work in NAT and the PMC, I also had direct contact with treacherous elements when I was in Swaziland. I was definitely one of those who the apartheid security services were concerned about.
September’s call told me that I was being monitored and that Ponte City was being watched. The point was immediately driven home to me that it was dangerous for me to stay alone; anything could happen to me and there would be no witness. Luckily the flat was fully furnished; all I needed to do was to pack my suitcase and leave. That is exactly what I did. My car was parked in the basement. I could take the lift all the way down to the parking basement without leaving the building.
My apartment was high up in the building and afforded a beautiful panoramic view of Johannesburg. I took the last glance at the city from that vintage point, took the lift down, threw my suitcase in the car and drove away.
It was a serene morning on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal in early 1991. There was a gentle breeze in the air. The sky was spotlessly blue and the warmth of the sun was soft. It was a typical autumn day in the midlands of Natal. The serenity of the campus came from the fact that on Sundays, most of the students slept until lunchtime after a Saturday night spent partying and boozing.
I was sitting at my desk trying to make notes from a textbook. Occasionally I looked out of the window in front of me. The campus was small and tightly contained. The yards were exquisitely manicured, with rows of beautiful trees brushing against the distant sky. I heard a soft knock on the door. I asked the knocker to come in.
A handsome white gentleman of medium height and build came in. He was smartly dressed. His brown jacket hung over one of his arms on account of the warm weather. He greeted me as ‘Mr Mavimbela’ with a broad and disarming smile. I responded cautiously. It was clear to me that my unsolicited visitor was not a student. No student would come into my room wearing such smart clothes so early on a Sunday morning. My visitor politely asked if he could take the chair in the corner. I signalled my agreement. In jest he made a comment about me not being in church on a Sunday morning. I said something about prayer being a contract between God and the individual.
He apologised for invading my Sunday morning and introduced himself as Gerhardt, saying that he was from Germany. He said he knew a lot about me and my history in the ANC. He called me ‘Klaus Maphepha’ as a way of showing me that he knew more about me than I thought. He went on to tell me that I was destined to hold very important positions in the ANC and the future democratic government. He also made it known that he knew about my intelligence training in East Germany and the ANC.
I could not contain my curiosity. I asked him how a German citizen knew so much about me. What was his intention of visiting me? He told me he was the officer in the West German intelligence organisation. He said the intelligence services of the two German states were being reintegrated, and went on to give me a sophisticated lecture about Germany’s view of how the world would evolve after the end of the Cold War. He said new centres of world power were emerging: one of them was Europe led by a reunited Germany. That is the bloc he said he represented, which would be in stiff competition with the US and the emerging Asian bloc. Germany had to cultivate strategic allies for the future if it wanted to be a serious power broker, he said. It had identified democratic South Africa as a strategic ally it wanted to cultivate in the region, he added.
Gerhardt went on to say that an important way in which Germany could build strategic partnership with democratic South Africa of the future was by cultivating its future leaders, and it was in that context that he had come to talk to me. They would immediately buy me a car whilst I was at university, I would have substantial pocket money and they would buy me a house when I leave university, he said.
In intelligence tradecraft there is what is called a ‘false flag’ operation. I saw a false flag written all over Gerhardt’s sophisticated story. In a false flag operation, the recruiter presents a false identity to the target of recruitment; his or her real identity is not given upfront. They are hidden because they would be so repugnant to the target that they would likely be rejected outright. On the other hand, the false flag is something that seems to be unrelated to the enemy of the target and something likely to be agreeable or even enticing. The premise is that the target may agree to sell out because the burden of guilt is lighter than selling out directly to an avowed enemy. Only after the target has bought into the false flag operation and committed treason, espionage or betrayal, is the truth revealed. By that time, the target is so compromised and exposed to the threat of blackmail that he or she has no choice but to continue with the treachery.
I did not believe that the man’s real name was Gerhardt – I concluded that it was the same NIS and a right-wing plot designed to compromise senior cadres and leaders of the national liberation movement. What gave me serious concern is something else that Gerhardt said; that other prominent cadres and leaders of the ANC had already agreed to work with his organisation. I had been in the liberation movement long enough to know that he was probably correct.
The false flag did not close my eyes to the remote possibility that Gerhardt might be a real German intelligence officer.
I politely told my visitor that he was not welcome in my room and asked him to leave. I opened the door for him. He requested that I should not dismiss his proposal out of hand and asked me to sleep on it. I repeated that I saw no point in his proposal. He said goodbye and he left. I reported Gerhardt’s visit to ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, specifically to the department dealing with intelligence and security, which was headed by Joe Nhlanhla and manned by Billy Masethla. They shared my concern that Gerhardt and his ilk were a continued danger to the integrity of ANC cadres and leaders.
As Gerhardt was speaking earlier, a passage from a Bertolt Brecht play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, had come to mind. The play is an allegorical representation of Adolf Hitler. The passage ran as follows: ‘Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again’.
- This is an extract from Time Is Not The Measure – by Vusi Mavimbela. He is also the author of Africa and the Testament of the Gods as well as No Lullaby for my Country. Time is Not The Measure is published by Reach and distributed by Blue Weaver. Available at all bookshops at R185.00