South Africa turns spotlight on secret bombing of ANC

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The Independent Online
THE unsolved bombing of the African National Congress offices in London 16 years ago is to come under examination by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), it was learned yesterday.

No one was injured in the 1982 bombing of the ANC's Panton Street offices, one of the exiled movement's most important centres of activity, but the destruction of the bulk of its records severely hampered its work. Several earlier break-ins were also assumed to be the work of South African agents. The London bombing, and the murder in Paris of the exiled ANC activist Dulcie September, were the most violent acts committed in Europe during the secret struggle against the opponents of apartheid.

Although there have been numerous references - during two years of testimony to the TRC - to undercover activity abroad by the apartheid government, the Commission has not so far held hearings on the subject. It is understood, however, that two of the previous regime's most notorious agents, Eugene de Kock and Craig Williamson, have applied for amnesty in connection with the London bombing, and will testify later this year.

De Kock is serving several life sentences for the torture and murder of ANC supporters at the Vlakplaas secret base; Mr Williamson, known as apartheid's "superspy", infiltrated exile groups in Europe and has admitted involvement in sending booby-trapped parcels which killed several people. In 1995 he said he had led a three-member group which carried out the London bombing, and that the device, which had been sent to London in a diplomatic bag, was assembled at South Africa House, Trafalgar Square.

Yesterday the Commission adjourned after more than a week of sensational evidence about the previous regime's chemical and biological warfare programme, including the production of poisoned umbrellas and bicycle pumps, research into the use of drugs such as ecstasy in crowd control, and attempts to limit the fertility of the black population or to find a bacterium which would harm only black people. The head of the programme, Dr Wouter Basson, a senior military physician who held the rank of brigadier, was due to testify yesterday, but failed to appear.

The acting chairman, Dubisa Ntsebeza, said Dr Basson had broken an agreement to present himself by noon or file a legal challenge to the Commission's subpoena. But the TRC, already wrestling with a challenge to its authority by the former president, PW Botha, is likely to wait before deciding to prosecute Dr Basson. The case against Mr Botha for refusing to testify has been delayed until August.

The final witness, former military surgeon-general Dr Neil Knobel, disclosed yesterday that 20 barrels of dangerous substances, including ecstasy and cocaine, had been dumped in the south Atlantic from a search and rescue aircraft after South Africa signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993. He also said tens of thousands of dollars was spent in bribes to obtain materials for the programme, including the purchase of methaquolone, a substance used in the making of amphetamines, from Croatia.

Dr Knobel, who held the rank of lieutenant-general, faced fierce questioning from the Commission about his failure to inquire into the activities of Dr Basson, who was nominally under his command. He said that it was only towards the end of 1993, when he learned that the British and American governments were about to challenge South Africa's compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, that he became aware of the extent of the programme, and of Dr Basson's part in it.