South Africa

The long shadow of the Arms Deal: The murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani

For the past 30 years, veteran investigative journalist EVELYN GROENINK has doggedly tried to piece together why ANC Paris representative, Dulcie September, was assassinated on 29 March 1988 as she unlocked the ANC’s offices at 28, Rue des Petites-Ecuries. September, who was 52 at the time, was shot five times from behind with a .22 calibre silenced rifle. Why was this principled cadre murdered? Who were the killers and did she uncover a shadowy international arms-dealing matrix that would, years later, haunt post-apartheid South Africa?

Evelyn Groenink’s book, Incorruptible – The Story of the Murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani, will be launched at the Cornerstone Institute in Cape Town on Tuesday.

In a foreword, Pravin Gordhan writes that Groenink’s book offers glimpses of a different species of State Capture in a different political and global context.

Yet the similarities to the present are there for all of us to learn from – and not repeat.”

Gordhan explains that Groenink’s book “tells the story of the political assassinations of three brave freedom fighters, Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani. Evelyn Groenink has unearthed how these comrades were murdered to make way doe unscrupulous business deals, self-enrichment and political and military power.”

Daily Maverick will publish extracts – Chapters 11 and 12 – in two parts. Part two will be published on Wednesday.


11. Nuclear material

28 November 1989, Marly-le-Roi

If we want to buy weapons when we are the government, of course we will turn to France,” says Pallo Jordan almost reassuringly and suddenly there is a deadly quiet in the press room of this conference centre on the outskirts of Paris. What is he saying? The police’s Casspirs rule in Johannesburg’s townships; hundreds of activists are locked up, tortured, beaten. People disappear from their families without a trace. All forces need to be mustered in a worldwide humanitarian protest against apartheid. Why is this ANC top man joking about arms trade?

The Conference for a New South Africa in Marly-le-Roi, a suburb outside Paris, has been flowing nicely up to now. A variety of anti-apartheid speeches have been heard; poems have been read; freedom fighters honoured and Breyten Breytenbach, the exiled South African writer – and together with Madame Mitterrand, one of the organisers in the charitable, Parti Socialiste-linked foundation France Libertés – has been given a large round of applause. ANC people have spoken to express appreciation for the French socialists’ “impressive history of support” for the freedom struggle. Thabo Mbeki has nominated Danielle Mitterrand honorary citizen of the imminent new South Africa. Several politicians and business leaders have spoken about future co-operation, après sanctions.

There has been much bilateral back-patting, smiling and promising. And now this. Arms. Weapons. You don’t talk about that, certainly not in public, certainly not here, in Paris, where rumours about arms trade with South Africa abound. Has Jordan just implied that the French socialists are worried about losing arms trade profits? Is it just that they would want to resume business as soon as Jordan is a minister? Or do they already work with people who have innocent-sounding company names engraved on plates in the Rue du Faubourg?

There is some shuffling of shoes and chairs, some sudden whispering among the public. The organisers in the presiding panel do their best to appear relaxed, smiling at Pallo Jordan, who has given his microphone back to the chairman after dropping his bombshell. The chair takes over and casually, as if nothing happened, announces the rest of the programme to take place after the buffet lunch.

I know Pallo Jordan, who has visited the Dutch AABN a number of times, well enough to be sure he hasn’t just made an inappropriate joke. Jordan is one of the sharpest minds of the ANC, an intellectual political analyst and historian, who likes to draw parallels between the ruling South African white rich elite and the days of the court of Marie Antoinette. Jordan’s independent attitude has caused problems for him in the past: to the extent that he spent some months in one of the movement’s own prison camps after criticising the ANC secret service Mbokodo, the aptly named “rock that crushes”. Just like a rock careering off a mountain, Mbokodo isn’t always too careful about whom it crushes, where it stops and what happens to the landscape it has passed through.

At the crowded buffet I approach Jordan to greet him and ask him if he can please repeat what he has just said, that thing about buying weapons. He looks at me with a slightly devious smile and says cheerfully: “I couldn’t really have said anything like that now could I?”

I then notice Aziz Pahad chatting happily with a chubby and boisterous black woman standing next to him. After a while he notices me, too. “Heeeyyyy,” he calls, clearly a little under the influence already. “Can I introduce you two? This is Mandy, from SWAPO. She is visiting us from Namibia. Mandy, this is Evelyn.” Mandy smiles at me. “I have heard so much about you,” she says.

I have heard a lot about her, too. First from Martyn van Geems the hapless war resister who was arrested and accused of having had a pathological sexual relationship with Dulcie, as well as her murder. Martyn had phoned her in my presence, as if to prove his innocence by impressing on me that a real black freedom fighter was his friend. They had met in the circles around the Paris ANC office, he had said. Then I had heard about Mandy in Geneva, when researching SWAPO activist Hans Guibeb’s drunken driving accident that killed the supportive diplomat Ole Dørum. I had been told that the brothers Guibeb often visited her in the SWAPO office in Paris, and that she visited Geneva, too. She was apparently quite well known in refugee and exile circles; well informed and always on the go.

Then Dulcie’s successor, Solly Smith, had told me Mandy was his “daughter”. “Not really,” he had smiled – it had been during one of his more agreeable, not very drunk, moments. “But I had a relationship with her mother once. Ever since then, she calls me dad. It’s just a joke.” Ironically, Smith – he who was accused of being a South African spy himself – had told me that she was probably “working for somebody”, the way she was such a ‘social butterfly’ and on good terms with many a politician.

Marcel Béart had been a bit more than just suspicious about her links. “She used to come to the ANC office all the time when Dulcie was alive,” he had said once. “But after the murder she never set foot there again. Why?” But it could also be, Marcel had agreed, that she was just too spooked by the murder to go back to that office.

We chat briefly and I hear that she now works for French TV as a reporter for a current affairs programme on African matters. “Martyn is a technician for us,” she smiles, and points at a blond young man carrying rolls of cables. It is Van Geems. I hadn’t recognised him. We wave and smile.

After she leaves I tell Aziz Pahad what Solly Smith has said about Mandy. He grins, too. “Everybody knows Mandy,” he says lightheartedly. “She is sociable. You just handle her with care, that’s all.” I ask him if he doesn’t think it too much of a coincidence that Mandy’s SWAPO colleagues, the Guibeb brothers, were implicated in a killing in Geneva. What if it all had to do with arms trade and the French secret services? Ole Dørum’s daughter Anne had told Margrit Lienert that her father had been involved in “sensitive military contacts” with the liberation movements and with the new post-colonial governments in southern Africa. And Dulcie had wanted to send information to arms sanctions man Abdul Minty.

Would Mandy know about such things? Would she tell me? Would Aziz ask her to? Pahad nods. “Arms, of course of course. So what else is new?” He behaves as if the topic is boring him. “I considered all that. We thought a Western government did these things, possibly the French. Because of some interest that was being threatened. Arms, that would be logical.”

Moving restlessly, scanning the bar for somebody else to talk to, he finds a comrade. “Hey bru, bru! Come here!” Our meeting is over.

Arcueil, later

There is a memorial service for Dulcie September at what used to be her flat, in the suburb of Arcueil. Dulcie September. Heroine of the struggle against apartheid. Assassinated 29-3-1988, says a memorial plaque attached to the concrete wall. It is cold. Local activists in thick jackets, gloves and caps jump up and down to keep warm as the communist mayor of Arcueil pages through his prepared speech with well-wrapped clumsy fingers. Where are the honoured guests, the South African delegation to the Marly-le-Roi conference?

Almost an hour after the ceremony was due to begin, a bus arrives, from which some twenty-odd ANC members appear. They are visibly distraught. “We almost had to hijack this bus,” a young man tells me when I ask why they have come from the conference so late. “They didn’t want to let us go.” Others indicate that the conference organisers didn’t even inform them about the event. “I know lots of others who wanted to be here,” says an older comrade. “But we couldn’t get them in time.”

We were told about this by our communist friends in the PCF,” grins Aziz Pahad, who has come, too. “The socialists don’t want us to attend communist meetings.” But why wouldn’t the socialists have organised a memorial at the conference itself? It is for the first time after Dulcie’s death that an ANC delegation visits Paris. It should have occurred to France Libertés to do something in her honour. Aren’t the French supposed to be masters of good form?

At the reception afterwards at Arcueil city hall, Solly Smith has had more to drink than he can handle. He is even suffering from drunkard’s tears I see as I approach him, sniffing alone in a corner. I wonder whether I should call Joyce to organise transport for him to go home, when I hear him say something. “She phoned us,” he stammers. “She phoned us.” He is looking at me through his tears; what he is saying is intended for me. “So many times.”

Does he mean Dulcie? “Yes,” he continues, tears still dripping from behind his spectacles, down his cheeks. “She wanted us to come to Paris. There was a sensitive issue for us to handle. She wanted us to come and help her. But we didn’t go.” I ask who he means by “us”. “Aziz. Me and Aziz,” says Solly, rubbing his face with a handkerchief, trying to compose himself. “I was so sorry afterwards. So sorry.”

Aziz. Dulcie phoned Aziz. Before she was killed. It takes a few seconds for this information to sink in. If Dulcie phoned Aziz, Aziz had known she was dealing with something – something difficult and sensitive. And he hadn’t gone to help her. Neither had Solly, of course, but Aziz was his superior, as he was Dulcie’s, too. Dulcie, the disciplined and loyal cadre, would have turned to Aziz.

And Aziz had never told me.

What did Dulcie call you about?” I ask him as we meet the next evening at the conference bar. For the first time I see an expression on his face that could be described as shock. Or vulnerability. Or fear. Then he composes himself. “Oh well, you know, she was like that,” he shrugs. “A bit of a drama queen. She always had those stories of people spying on her, trying to kill her. I did not take it seriously. She was a bit paranoid.”

I get angry. The saying “Just that you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out there to get you” has never been more apt than now. Dulcie September was murdered after all. “If it was mere paranoia, if she was just afraid, she could have come to London, or gone to Lusaka. Or wherever,” I insist. “But she wanted you to come to Paris. To handle a sensitive issue. That’s what Solly says. What was it?”

He won’t budge. “If you want to talk, we can go talk in my hotel room,” he says provocatively. “You come with me, or we’re done.” Is he seriously trying to get me into bed? Surely this is no time to think about such things? Then I understand. If I come along, I’ll be compromised. He’ll have something on me, even if I may end up also having something on him.


You’ve had enough women,” I say, only realising later the ominous extra layer in those words. Dulcie was a woman, and she had most definitely been had by him, even if not in the carnal sense.

Later that evening

Dulcie had known who was coming to kill her, and why. And just as she had done when she was a young girl, fighting the Security Branch in Cape Town, she had warned her comrades. Just as she did then, she had stayed true to the rules and the discipline of the organisation. No matter how afraid you are, you stick to the rules. You fight what the organisation tells you to fight; if you get into battle with the enemy you alert your structures, hanging on in the meantime as much as you can. For the second time, her comrades hadn’t listened. And this time it wasn’t the comrades who got into trouble, but she herself.

They had let her die.

After that, Aziz had appointed Solly Smith, whom he knew – I feel quite sure of that now – to be an informer, as Dulcie’s successor in Paris. It was a choice that would surely be applauded by the French authorities. Smith wouldn’t fight. He would be much less of a headache to Pahad than Dulcie had been.

I ask around for Alex Moumbaris, who, I have heard, is here. I had always wanted to chat to this old Paris-based comrade, but hadn’t been able to get his contact. When I am pointed in the direction of a middle-aged, serious-looking man with glasses, I walk up to him to introduce myself. “So who’d have imagined that Pallo Jordan would start talking about buying arms from the French, hey,” I say. It is perhaps too blunt an opening, but I am past caring now. To my surprise Moumbaris, too, is in a blunt mood. “This is the most cynical event I have ever been to,” he answers. “Precisely the kind of thing Dulcie would not allow.”

It turns out he has never believed in “those death squads” who allegedly carried out Dulcie’s murder. “There is a big manipulator at work here. Somebody powerful, and important. Somebody to whom Dulcie September was an obstacle. Right here in Paris.”

He invites me to come to his flat the next day, to have a further talk.

The next day

Moumbaris starts talking as his wife serves coffee, after which she leaves us. “To find the culprits, you have to look at the interests at stake. There must be money somewhere. You don’t waste time over useless questions.” I wish I had met Moumbaris before: he knew Dulcie, and he knows that she didn’t waste time over useless questions either. That she followed the money too.

She had no capacity to really fight business deals that were going on between France and South Africa. But she did what she could, which was to expose the hypocrisy of those who pretended to support us, but were double dealing with Pretoria. That, she did a lot. And something that she did in that vein must have amounted to a spoke in the wheels. I just don’t know what that something was.”

I ask Moumbaris when last he remembers Dulcie fighting with someone. “That is easy,” he says. “With the Mouvement Anti-Apartheid.” The MAA. In France’s fragmented political landscape, every party has its Africa bureau, its development aid section, its anti-apartheid desk. The MAA belongs to the Parti Socialiste of François Mitterrand, the president, whose wife is currently presiding over the ANC friendship conference at Marly-le-Roi.

Moumbaris describes a plenary meeting with the Mouvement Anti-Apartheid early last year, in January 1988. “Dulcie spoke to them harshly. She said they must stop ignoring her, stop having their own contacts with South African entities. She mentioned dodgy deals and just stopped short of accusing them of sanctions busting. She reminded them that she was the representative of the South African people and that all dealings with South Africa should be cleared with her. That she was not just a collection point for second-hand clothing for black children.”

Sounds like that an eventful meeting,” I say. “It was more than that,” Moumbaris responds. “It was a declaration of war.”

Marly-le-Roi, the next day

There is a rumour doing the rounds at the France Libertés conference. A certain businessman has been refused further access after telling someone he was involved in nuclear trade with Pretoria and he had no intention to stop. “Or words to that effect,” says Abdul Minty, whom I have met here again after a long time, as always neatly dressed in a suit and gleaming shoes. “You have to dress well if you are from the Third World,” he once said to me. “Only whites can afford to wear jeans and jerseys and still be taken seriously.” He had tried to get more information on this businessman but to no avail.

I tell him I found out that Dulcie had phoned the London office shortly before she died, to inform Aziz Pahad of a “sensitive issue”, and that Pahad also thought it could have to do with arms trade. “That is interesting,” says Minty. “So maybe she sent that military information she announced not to me, but to him. Why don’t you ask him about it?”

I mumble something.

Amsterdam, December 1989

Regtien is still ill in bed, and what I have to tell him doesn’t make him feel much better. “Even though they pretended that it was only one single businessman who stepped out of line, Pallo Jordan sounded as if he was referring to a more general push for arms deals,” I summarise and he sighs and lights up a cigarette. “I am not supposed to smoke,” he says. “The doctor says my heart needs all the strength it can get.”

Prague, Christmas

The velvet revolution is breaking through when my mother and I visit Prague for a Christmas holiday. Sounds of accordions, old songs, allowed songs, pervade the traditional socialist tourist spots of the Karlsbrücke, the square around the clock with its parading apostles and the crystal and glass jewellery shops. But there are new songs too, and new songs that are old, but were previously banned. Youngsters in duffel coats hold candles, sing the new unbanned songs under a Christmas tree at Wenceslas Square. There is a flute, too; in a nearby record shop the sales girl reckons that all songs will be available again shortly.

Posters of men with raincoats, seen from the back, boot-prints drawn on their behinds, adorn the walls in the streets and smiles are everywhere as it snows.

This Prague winter is velvet indeed. Thankfully, there is not a green balloon in sight.

New Year’s Eve, Amsterdam

Are you sitting down?” asks Bart, phoning me the minute I walk back in with my suitcase. “Something terrible happened. Ton Regtien has died.”

While he was investigating South African death squads,” a newspaper writes. DM

Tomorrow: The French Connection