Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2003-09-21 Reporter: Rowan Philp

Lifting the Veil on Agent RS452



Sunday Times

Date 2003-09-21


Rowan Philp

Web Link


Spy report of 1989 meeting could reveal identity of apartheid agent whose code number has been ascribed to Bulelani Ngcuka

Revisiting the past Activist Dr Janet Cherry receiving a human rights award from Reebok around the time she and her friends were betrayed; and the Port Elizabeth apartment building - which is now a frail-care centre - where apartheid agent RS452 spied on activist friends in July 1989 Pictures Courtesy The Herald and Eugene Coetzee

'We knew there were people reporting on us at the time, but we didn't expect it from such a small group'

A meeting convened in the living room of a Port Elizabeth flat may hold the key to the identity of the apartheid agent who is at the centre of a row between Deputy President Jacob Zuma and National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka.

Supporters of Zuma have publicly claimed that Ngcuka was investigated by the ANC for being a spy with the code number "RS452".

Ngcuka has denied the claim and his spokesman, Sipho Ngwema, has claimed that the real agent RS452 was a white member of the anti-apartheid movement.

The Sunday Times has seen one of the agent's reports, which strongly suggests that he or she was present at a meeting of 10 people - all white - held by the Port Elizabeth Action Committee (PEAC) in 1989.

In the report - credited on the title as having been written by security branch captain "K Z Edwards" - agent RS452 describes the people, documents and conversation that night in detail.

The report has found its way to various media organisations.

Former security branch spy handler Karl Edwards, who is now a loss-control consultant, would not confirm that he was the author of the document - insisting instead that "the person who provided it should explain".

But the activists - who, 14 years later, are dismayed by the report - say it is an accurate reflection of the meeting.

The 10 activists met at 11 Belmont in Belmont Terrace - an apartment shared by then "banned person" Dr Janet Cherry and human rights activist Howard Varney - at 7pm on July 3 1989 for a report-back from Theresa Boulle on the ANC's meeting with members of the white anti-apartheid umbrella group the Five Freedoms Forum in Lusaka in June that year.

The Five Freedoms conference saw international and local anti-apartheid groups meeting with exiled ANC leaders to discuss strategies toward democratic change, including the role of whites in a changing society.

Other people present at the meeting included Glenn Goosen, a former chairman of PEAC; Black Sash members Cate Turner and Debbie Matheus; and activists Kobus Pienaar, Vanessa Brereton, and Dominique and Sylvie Souchon.

Now it appears that one of the group listened carefully, then reported the discussion back to a spymaster.

The meeting was limited to 10 and held at Cherry's flat because - as a banned person since her release from police detention for assisting members of the banned ANC - she was restricted to her home after 6pm, and could not meet with more than nine people at a time.

This week - following the description of Ngcuka's spokesman, Sipho Ngwema, of RS452 as a "white woman" from the Port Elizabeth area - one of the 10 ignored a barrage of telephone messages and e-mails from other activists present that night demanding that the person address bitter suspicions.

In the report, the spy noted that Boulle "has kept the minutes of the conference with the ANC in a large file".

It is followed by a recommendation from Edwards that "the residences and workplaces of [the] white activists be raided".

Reacting to the report with "My God! - that's what happened!", Goosen, now an advocate, said the file was searched for and removed during a security police raid of his office soon after the meeting.

"We had wondered how they knew about that file - they found everything all the notes, the documents, including the photographs, from the Five Freedoms visit," said Goosen.

"The file identified in the report is clearly directly linked to the raid [but] I wouldn't call it critical intelligence."

He said Boulle's house had also been raided.

Cherry - an adult educationalist in 1989 and now a senior researcher with the HSRC - said damage to PEAC would have been "minimal".

However, she said "I personally feel very angry. Ethically, how could [this person] do it? [The person] needs to explain it to us, and to the public.

"We knew there were people reporting on us at the time, but we didn't expect it to be from such a small group. I remember our colleagues in Grahamstown were devastated when it was revealed that [Eastern Cape activist] Olivia Forsyth was a spy."

An occupational therapist in 1989 and now an Aids and healthcare educationalist, Boulle said the group - who "worked hard and played hard", regularly gathering for red wine and late suppers - had re-established close ties this week as the scandal "hurls us back in time".

This week Edwards admitted that he had handled agent RS452, but said "It was not Bulelani Ngcuka."

In an affidavit to the new judicial commission of inquiry into the spy claims, Edwards wrote only that the agent had been "a white [undercover] police [member]".

He told the Sunday Times "I will not reveal the identity of agent RS452 or any other agent to anybody," including the commission. "The disclosure of this type of [identity] information is irresponsible and can ruin the lives of people who are committed to making a positive contribution to our society," he said.

With acknowledgements to Rowan Philp and the Sunday Times.