Basson trial to reveal dark CCB secrets
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By Marlene Burger
The cloak of secrecy that has shrouded a covert security force unit for 10 years is about to be lifted - but the names of some members might never be publicly revealed.
When the trial of chemical war expert Dr Wouter Basson resumes in Pretoria on Tuesday, key members of the sinister Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) - including a nephew of former foreign minister Pik Botha - are expected to admit to their role in state-sanctioned hit squads.
Former CCB agents who will testify against Basson on 26 charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, assault and intimidation, include some who fought with the Selous Scouts and Special Branch during the bush war in what was then Rhodesia.
Some of the witnesses will publicly admit that they poisoned political activists before tossing their bodies into the sea from aircraft.
Dr RF (Frederik) Botha, son of Pik Botha's brother Johan and his wife, Professor Elize Botha, is named 11 times in the 250-page indictment against Basson as the CCB's medical co-ordinator, operating under the aliases of "Koos" and "Frans".
Botha allegedly handed a vial of Digoxin to a CCB colleague in 1989. The toxin was intended to be used to murder Dullah Omar, the transport minister. Botha allegedly also supplied a baboon foetus that was suspended from a tree in the garden of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's home in Cape Town.
The prosecution is expected to seek a ruling from the Pretoria high court to protect the identities of some witnesses because of their backgrounds and for fear of reprisals. The names of the witnesses do not appear on the official witness list. They will testify in the hope of being granted immunity from prosecution.
The charges against Basson in which the secret witnesses are implicated relate to the "elimination" of ANC, PAC and Swapo members as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy allegedly approved by top-ranking officers of the South African Defence Force (SADF).
Evidence will also be led about the murder of at least three special force members who threatened to expose the activities of the CCB and its forerunners, Barnacle and D40.
Key witnesses to be called by the prosecution were never questioned by the 1990 Harms commission, now known to have been deliberately misled and obstructed by high-ranking security force officers.
The commission found that there were no official hit squads.
Over the next few weeks, however, Judge Willie Hartzenberg will hear from agents themselves how they administered lethal substances to targets by means of injections or beverages laced with poison.
They will also reveal details of alleged CCB plots to assassinate ANC luminaries Ronnie Kasrils, Pallo Jordan, Dullah Omar and Frank Chikane.
Among the 42 people named in the indictment are:
- Lieutenant-General Fritz Loots, special forces commander from 1974 to April 1982
- former SADF chief General Kat Liebenberg, who died of cancer in 1998
- former senior military intelligence officers Cor van Niekerk, Henri van der Westhuizen and Jan-Anton Nieuwoudt
- known CCB commanders Major-General Joep Joubert, Major-General Eddie Webb and Colonel Joe Verster.
Those implicated in the alleged murders include Joe Theron, Danie Phaal, Chris Pretorius, Matie van der Linde and HAP Potgieter, Chris Smit, Gert Otto and Manie van Staden, Trevor Floyd, Niel Kriel and Charl Naude.
Floyd and Naude feature prominently in The Silent War, a recently published book by Peter Stiff on Recce operations from 1969 to 1994.
The book also identifies Kriel - referred to as "Major Niel" - as a former Selous Scout and the first commanding officer of Barnacle, who recruited former Rhodesians for what were seen as "plum jobs" in the covert unit.
Naude, who fought alongside the Selous Scouts in 1975 and 1976, was first identified as a CCB operator during truth commission amnesty hearings in 1997.
Former security policemen Jacques Hechter and Jack Cronje named Naude in connection with the murder of a group of ANC activists who became known as the Nietverdiend 10, and the assassination of Mamelodi medical doctor Fabian Ribeiro and his wife, Florence.
Floyd, a founder member of the Recces and former regimental sergeant-major, was decorated for his role in a clandestine training and support mission by a small group of South African soldiers in the 1969/70 Biafran war.
He took part in a 1972 raid on Dar es Salaam, aimed at disrupting Tanzanian support for the Mozambican liberation movement Frelimo, and played a pivotal role in numerous early Angolan operations.
He also fought with the Special Air Services unit in the Rhodesian bush war.