Publication: The Star Issued: Date: 2003-09-22 Reporter: Christelle Terreblanche

Deadline Looms for TRC Spy Files to be Handed to Archives



The Star

Date 2003-09-22


Christelle Terreblanche

Web Link


The names of apartheid spies given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are likely to be hushed up.

A file containing the names of alleged security police and intelligence agents are among documents in 34 boxes of TRC information that found their way to the offices of the minister of intelligence, instead of being handed over to the National Archives.

After a two-year court battle, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, by former national archivist Verne Harris, an out-of-court settlement last week dictated that the boxes must be delivered to the archives in three batches.

The deadline for the first delivery was to be tomorrow.

Harris, director of the SA History Archive, said yesterday that if the deadline were missed, he would go ahead with a further court case against the government in January.

On Friday, historian Professor Ben Magubane, the chair of a special intelligence committee on the classification and declassification of documents, said 95% of the files in the secret boxes were likely to be declassified entirely.

Speaking at a briefing convened by Intelligence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Magubane said the committee was racing this week to finalise its report to the government and would hand it over by the end of the month.

Its main task would be to advise on guidelines for the classification and declassification of documents in the possession of intelligence agencies, including TRC files deemed sensitive.

Magubane added it was not really part of the committee's mandate to deal with "spies of the previous regime". Harris said he had no doubt that the file on spies would not be among those declassified.

He said that if the 5% of files Magubane referred to were not handed over, he would "look at the government's reasons and then either contest or accept the reasons given".

Harris maintains there is no legal provision for Sisulu's classification committee to deny access to some of the documents, which, according to TRC commissioners, should have been transferred to the national archives and should have been available to the public.

He said the settlement agreement made no reference to the committee's role.

Harris and the SA History Archive in May won an out-of-court settlement with the Justice Ministry regarding access to TRC records.

A final agreement on delivery of the TRC files, which stipulates that all the information must be handed over by February next year, was reached last week.

When Harris, as a former deputy director of the national archives, first publicly voiced suspicions that national intelligence was secretly keeping the TRC documents, he was threatened with disciplinary action by his superiors.

He subsequently admitted this was a key factor in his decision to leave the National Archives.

It is understood that 34 boxes are now in the custody of the Justice Department, which will facilitate the handing over.

With acknowledgements to Christelle Terreblanche and The Star.