Pretoria - The North Gauteng High Court has started hearing evidence on how undercover agents infiltrated an alleged rebel group that planned to stage a coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the aim of ousting President Joseph Kabila.
Judge Billy Mothle last week dismissed several applications launched on behalf of some of the 20 accused. Among these was an application that a South African court did not have jurisdiction to try the men, as their charges related to the DRC and not South Africa.
They also attacked the conduct of undercover agents who infiltrated their group and the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to give the go-ahead for the agents to set a trap for them.
With the applications out of the way, the trial will now focus on evidence relating to the staging of the alleged coup.
The main witnesses are the two agents who infiltrated the dissident organisation known as the Union of Nationalists for Renewal.
Taking the stand on Monday was one of the agents, a lieutenant-colonel in the anti-terrorist division of the police who may not be identified. He was called in to assist the Hawks after information was received from an informer of a group that was looking for mercenaries to help it stage a coup in the DRC.
He and another undercover agent, identified only as Joe, met the informer on the N1 highway in September 2012. They then went to Joburg to meet the rest of the group. The agent said they met a man known only as Carlos at a restaurant. He introduced them to two men called Patric and Cedric.
The witness pointed out the latter two men sitting in the dock. He never saw Carlos again.
Cedric, who was introduced as “the secretary”, said they had a group in the DRC consisting of about 7 000 members who needed assistance. He explained that they wanted to take over two mines in the regions of Goma and Bukavu, but that their main aim was to “get rid of” Kabila.
“He said that in order to obtain this, they needed money, weapons and training. He also said they did not really have money to pay us, but they were willing to pay us by way of mining rights. They said their leader was on his way to South Africa and we would meet him.”
The agent testified that he and his colleague pretended to be soldiers attached to the special forces unit during the old dispensation. They claimed to have had a lot of knowledge about mercenary activities in Africa and the Middle East.
“We told them we could assist them with training and we created the impression that we had access to weapons. Although it was early days, we indicated that we would train them in South Africa.”
He said that within days Cedric sent a “wish list” which included ground-to-air missiles and a picture of their troops in the bush, among them Etienne Kabila wearing camouflage.
This agent is expected to remain in the witness box for much of the week as he still has to conclude his evidence before being subjected to cross-examination by the 20 accused, which include Etienne Kabila, said to be the half-brother of the president.