SA's former spies return as friends

PEACE in Southern Africa spelt hard times for South Africa's spies, soldiers and commando squadrons. Those who had dedicated their lives to breaking South Africa's neighbours, blowing up bridges and railway lines, schools and hospitals, were out of a job when Pretoria called off its war against the Frontline states.

But they found a way of using their knowledge of the old adversaries and many returned to their old haunts to establish business links and rebuild the economies they tried to destroy for 15 years. Craig Williamson, South Africa's former spy chief, is reported to be a political adviser to President Joachim Chissano of Mozambique. Mr Williamson, who infiltrated the African National Congress network in Europe in the 1970s, became an adviser to President P W Botha and served on the State Security Council where he identified South Africa's enemies and arranged their elimination.

Major General Neils van Tonder, former head of South African Military Intelligence and once known as 'Major Destabilisation', has a business consultancy in the Angolan capital, Luanda, where he advises South African businessmen on contacts and contracts. Johannes Smit, a former officer from the notorious 32 Battalion which fought alongside the Unita rebels in Angola and terrorised the southern part of the country, is Pretoria's chief representative in Luanda. Asked if he has been in Angola before, he says he spent much of the last 10 years in Angola - 'but in another capacity'.

Another former Military Intelligence officer, Alex de Witt, organises security in the Angolan diamond fields for the South African security company Grays. He admits he spent much of the last few years working on Angola but not, as some of the others, living on Angolan territory.

Other former members of the South African military establishment, particularly Rhodesians who once fought for Ian Smith, work in Southern African countries, many running game parks or security companies. And further opportunities may arise for South Africans who know Africa well. Where once a whiff of a South African connection ensured instant deportation, now the South African Department of Foreign Affairs is striving to establish diplomatic links. In black Africa, Pretoria has 15 permanent missions accredited to 31 countries. Three more countries are about to establish full diplomatic relations.

However, the self-effacing strategist who masterminded South Africa's wars with its neighbours throughout the 1980s, General Janie Geldenhuys, has not cashed in on his knowledge of the countries. He runs a small restaurant in Pretoria.