An anti-apartheid activist whose name you won’t often hear is Dulcie September’s. To this day her murder in Paris in 1988 is unsolved.
An anti-apartheid activist whose name you won’t often hear is Dulcie September’s. To this day her murder in Paris in 1988 is unsolved.

Dulcie September: Remember her name

By Angelique Ardé Time of article published Mar 21, 2021

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Every year on Human Rights Day in South Africa we commemorate those who paid the price for our freedom – sacrificing and suffering so that we can enjoy the rights and liberties that are now enshrined in our Constitution.

An anti-apartheid activist whose name you won’t often hear is Dulcie September’s. She was a school teacher from Athlone who was imprisoned for five years for treason and then banned and placed under house arrest for another five years before she went into exile.

At the time of her assassination in Paris on March 29, 1988, September was the ANC’s representative in France, Luxembourg and Switzerland – a position she had occupied for five years.

Her murder sent shock waves through the French capital and beyond. And her funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, many protesting that a freedom fighter could be assassinated in a city like Paris, where she had taken refuge.

To this day, her murder is unresolved.

While it was said to be the work of the South African secret police, the French investigation into her assassination found no such evidence and, many years later, nor did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Those agitating for an inquest into her killing believe September was assassinated because she had evidence of arms dealing between the apartheid regime and France, in violation of sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Dutch activist and investigative journalist Evelyn Groenink spent almost 30 years searching for the truth behind September’s killing culminating in the publication of her book Incorruptible – The Story of the Murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani.

Groenink features prominently in a new documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Enver Samuel. Murder in Paris aims to shed light on why September was assassinated.

The film follows Groenink’s journey, which begins with her belief that struggle heroes like September “would and could only be murdered by one culprit: the apartheid regime, and for one motive only: because they were freedom fighters”.

But she discovers that her subjects had also tried to keep their organisations in check. “They stood against mafias who had invaded their movements’ inner circles. They were not only brave anti-apartheid fighters; they were incorruptible,” Groenink is quoted as saying.

The apartheid regime’s close ties with France, involving weapons and nuclear deals despite sanctions, cast doubt on the initial assumption that Dulcie was targeted for her role as an anti-apartheid activist.

“The trail of profit-making led to Paris, where it benefited politicians, corporations, banks and spies. Those with power simply had too much to lose,” she has said.

Hennie van Vuuren, the author of Apartheid Guns and Money, is also interviewed in the documentary. In it, he says: “Dulcie September wasn’t only murdered, but there was an attempt to erase her existence.”

He says there was a powerful network of players that were supporting the apartheid government. “It was done in a manner that after 30 years we still don’t know who killed Dulcie September.”

SABC3 will premiere the first part of Murder in Paris on Human Rights Day ( March 21) and the second part a week later, on March 28, the day before the 33rd commemoration of September’s murder, both at 7.30pm.

Funded in part by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the documentary also aims to make Dulcie September’s name known, Samuel says.

“While many struggle heroes are remembered and revered, Dulcie’s memory is all but erased beyond those who knew her. Murder in Paris seeks to redress this wrong and place Dulcie next to the great names of those who fought for a free and just South Africa.”

Through screenings of the film and discussions in partnership with schools, universities, NGOs and community organisations, he hopes September will become part of the public discourse.

He says the film supports the call for the prosecution of those responsible for apartheid-era economic crimes. Institutions, including international banks, were involved in financing the illegal procurement of arms used to keep the regime in power and to maintain oppression.

“The work of Open Secrets ZA, an independent non-profit organisation which exposes economic crimes perpetrated by the private sector, in this regard is ground-breaking,” Samuel says.

Quoting activist Patric Tariq Mellet, he says September’s assassination is key to cracking the code in the corruption story in South Africa and reveals “how the right-wing ethno-nationalist forces of corruption set about destroying the ANC from the inside and attempted to re-purpose the state for private gain”.

Samuel says Murder in Paris unveils complex issues relating to the nature of liberation struggles, “moral and political questions, and critically the gaps in the telling of the story of the fight against apartheid”.

But he believes September’s life of sacrifice and service was not in vain and will inspire hope in those who strive for democracy and justice.

The September family’s application to the French courts to hold an inquest into her assassination may be in the offing with a hearing set down for October 11 in Paris.

* Murder in Paris – the documentary on Dulcie September’s life, directed and produced by Enver Samuel, will be aired on Sunday (Human Rights Day) on SABC3 at 7.30pm. Part Two will be aired on March 28 at 7.30pm.

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