By Fiona Forde
In a dramatic turnabout, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has said it will consider investigating the mysterious murder of Dulcie September, 21 years after the ANC activist met her fate in Paris.
"We would look into such a request if and when we receive it and we would then take the appropriate action," NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga told Independent Newspapers this week. "But we have never received any request to look into her death and therefore it has never been under consideration by the NPA."
This comes after publisher Maggie Davey breathed new life into the 1988 killing, arguing at the Ruth First lecture in Joburg last week that, until such time as the reasons for the ANC activist's death are known and recognised, South African politics will remain in a perpetual state of rot.
Drawing on the research carried out by Dutch investigative journalist Evelyn Groenink, which Davey's publishing house Jacana was prevented from launching as a book some years back, she traced a shady but powerful world of arms deals and big business which to this day has managed to put a muzzle on the understanding of our contemporary history.
Shortly after September's death, Groenink began to chase the tails of what she believed were South African death squads running amok in Europe. But two years into her investigation she came face to face with the sordid world of sanctions- busters and nuclear and arms dealers who she found were beating a steady path to the southern hemisphere, with September, it would seem, in hot pursuit.
September had wanted to know who was benefiting financially from apartheid and "who would resist calls for sanctions and disinvestments at all costs", as Davey put it last week.
Hence Groenink wanted to know who would have benefited from September's death. Like September, she too followed the money and the big business interests.
By the time she knocked at Davey's Johannesburg door in the early years of the new democratic dispensation, Groenink was also chasing the tails of some of the middle men of the multi-billion rand arms deal which would rock the foundations of South African politics for the next 10 years.
"I had stumbled on a pattern and that was the most threatening aspect for the people involved," Groenink now says, a pattern that would reveal how the arms industry did not discriminate between the apartheid regime and the new democracy.
The pair encountered ferocious resistance to the book project and, after a series of legal and other threats, they decided to shelve it, knowing full well it would have closed the doors of Jacana in the process.
"What was so threatening about the prospective publication of Evelyn's book?" Davey asked, a question that would remain with her for a number of years to follow.
Meanwhile, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had also looked into September's death and concluded that she was most likely "a victim of a CCB operation involving the contracting of a private intelligence organisation, which, in turn, contracted out the killing".
"Why was there neither full disclosure nor a thorough investigation of the military and business sectors at the TRC?" Davey also asked last week.
"Perhaps the preceding years of secrecy and ambiguity had forged a link that, if broken, would destroy all around it," she contended. "The failure of the TRC and the South African state to hold big oil, big arms and big business to account, allowed for a continuation of the rot which we saw in the arms deal; a rot that persists to our day, and a rot, which is, as Mark Gevisser so aptly puts it, 'the poisoned well of SA politics'," she continued.
Davey began to probe the ANC in a bid to understand who led the investigation into September's death on the part of the liberation movement. Few answers were forthcoming. Earlier this year she wrote to President Jacob Zuma, who was head of ANC intelligence at the time of September's murder, to see if he could shed light on the investigation. She is still awaiting a response.
Last week, Aziz Pahad, who recruited September into the movement and who was based in London at the time of her killing, told Independent Newspapers that the late Solly Smith led the inquiry, "though it's possible that it could also have been someone in Lusaka, or someone in security".
Smith, alias Samuel Khanyile, who had been the ANC's London representative, succeeded September in Paris. In 1991 he confessed to being a spy. He died a few years later.
If it was Smith, what became of his investigation?
Dr Frene Ginwala, who was head of the political research unit in the office of president Oliver Tambo and based in London at the time of September's death, says it's difficult to know. She says the files could have gone to a number of departments in Lusaka: "(They could have gone to) intelligence or security or even international affairs. I really do not know. But you must remember, that was a very chaotic time. We were all preparing to come home."
Ginwala doesn't believe that September was the victim of an international web of shady deals. "Dulcie would have reported anything like that to the ANC first," she says. "Or to people like Abdul (Minty) who was still involved in the arms embargo. It's very strange if she didn't," she says.
Yet Groenink says she spoke to Minty, who claimed that September had been in touch with him soon before she died and that she was going to "send me some information". It never arrived.
Either way, it doesn't explain the resistance to publishing Groenink's book. When all else failed, the Dutch journalist deposited her manuscript with the offices of the Scorpions in 2001. "I didn't want to withhold evidence, and if anyone could solve this, the police would," she says.
She was informed a while later that there was "no interest" in taking the matter further.
What is equally inexplicable is why the NPA now insists that no request has ever been made to investigate September's death, yet Piers Pigou, the former director of the South African History Archive (SAHA), has repeatedly been denied access to information about her murder for a number of years. Pigou had been an investigator in the TRC and was aware that the dockets from the French investigation into her death had been brought back to South Africa.
SAHA attempted to gain access to the dockets but the Department of Justice (DoJ), the National Intelligence Agency and the National Archives each resisted its requests.
"In an out-of-court settlement in 2005 some 60 to 70 percent of those documents were handed over to us by Vusi Pikoli," Pigou told Independent Newspapers. Pikoli was then the director-general of the DoJ.
However September's docket was not among them. "The matter was still under investigation," Pikoli told SAHA. "I have that in writing," Pigou says.
What is also in writing is a response by the DoJ to Davey earlier this month explaining why they would not allow her access to the September files.
"The records relating to Dulcie September contain information obtained by law enforcement agencies in the course of their investigations of her assassination. It has also been verified that these investigations have not yet been concluded..."
Yet Mhaga insists that if September's murder was being investigated, it would fall under the remit of the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit, headed by Anton Ackerman, at the NPA. "The murders or deaths of former political activists, prior to 1994, is part of their mandate," Mhaga explained, "and September's investigation is not there."
"If that is the case, then the dockets and information concerning her murder must now be released," Pigou says.
Davey says she will reapply for access to the files immediately.