The self-styled liberator of the ‘independent’ Republic of Ciskei is still reviled today, writes Matthew Mpahlwa.
King William’s Town’s Brigadier Oupa Gqozo launched himself with the charming naiveté of a debutant. As a young man, Gqozo was attracted by the mystique and power of the military, which later saw him join the armed forces.
Although no longer in the public eye, Gqozo still has a pleasant, disarming and attractive personality. But whatever traits the military ruler may have, it does not seem as if they prepared him for the halcyon days of his rule, which led to an ever-present dark cloud over his reign coupled to continued misfortune.
As the former head of the Ciskei Republic, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo’s lust for power may have caused him to lead one of the bloodiest reigns in the history of South Africa. And as a result, Gqozo, the self-styled liberator of the Ciskei Republic, is still reviled today.
His lust to stay in power was further cemented when he told then-minister of foreign affairs Pik Botha, “I am no pushover”. This was after the Bhisho massacre which left 28 ANC supporters dead.
Several ANC leaders, including current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, the late SACP hero Chris Hani, and Steve Tshwete (who was to become one of Nelson Mandela’s senior cabinet ministers) survived that massacre by a whisker.
The march followed an earlier memorandum handed to apartheid’s last president, FW de Klerk, by the ANC. It demanded that he replace Gqozo with an interim administration which would permit free democratic activity in Ciskei.
De Klerk had refused on the grounds that the Ciskei did not fall under South Africa’s jurisdiction.
Gqozo, who is in his late 60s, told The Sunday Independent that he has now authored his autobiography, which gives the first official account of his controversial (and often ruthless) life in a bid to correct the discrepancies regarding his military rule.
The new disclosures by Gqozo in the unpublished book may well paint a surprising portrait of this man and many of the fateful strategies which characterised his rule.
For many years following the advent of democracy, the former military ruler was content to keep mum about his past.
He has always vowed that when he decided to talk, people would be shocked. His controversial manuscript, which The Sunday Independent has seen, mentions high-profile figures within the ANC and in his Ciskei regime as the architects behind his fall.
From numerous interviews done by The Sunday Independent, it seems Gqozo has always wished to dictate how history should view him. In his mind, he rescued innocent people from Lennox Sebe’s dictatorial rule.
But for the Gqozo who emerges from the manuscript of his autobiography, it does seem as if his rule may well be remembered for its colossal misjudgments about situations and the people around him – misjudgments that were to end in his undoing.
The exhaustive details also seem to explain what really happened behind closed doors in Gqozo’s regime, from boardroom meetings to intelligence briefings. Gqozo even dedicates a whole chapter to what he calls “The Traitor of the Year” – about how he disagreed with the ANC.
Punctuated with broken English, he tells how he “was asked or recruited by Lennox Sebe’s brother… was offered many opportunities to serve my country because my background tells me that Ciskei is my country, and if I cannot get in Pretoria, I can get in Ciskei. Little did I know that I am going to be dragged (in) to tribalism which makes apartheid look like church choir picnic. There was no coming back. The inevitable jealousy took roots. Tribalism… evil spirits, black racism, nepotism, favouritism and dishonesty play primary roles in the downfall of black leaders.”
Some of his former colleagues paint him as a comic figure who was never trusted, a picture painted and reinforced by mostly those who served in his cabinet.
Advocate Viwe Notshe, a top senior legal counsel who served in Gqozo’s cabinet as minister of police and prisons, says Gqozo was a naive person and a dictator made up by people.
“You see, during my tenure as cabinet minister, I used to start my day by briefing Gqozo about current situations in the Republic of Ciskei. All this time, we thought he was listening to the briefings, but it proved to be the contrary.
“He would point fingers at people and accuse them of this and that. The blame game was the order of the day and we never knew who was feeding him with misinformation,” said Notshe.
In May 1992, Notshe had been appointed to serve as minister of police, prisons and traffic. It was only two months later, on or about July 16, 1992, that his close confidante, Brigadier Jan Viktor, the police commissioner, informed Notshe that his office had been bugged by intelligence officers.
“Jan came to my office and said ‘tea, tea’, pointing at the door, so I followed him. I was amazed at why someone would come to my office and simply say ‘tea’, but once we were outside Jan told me about the situation,” said Notshe.
Notshe still believes the spying on his office had been done by someone reporting to Gqozo directly and with Gqozo’s knowledge. He also suspects that Gqozo may have been misinformed that he (Notshe) had close links to the ANC at the time.
“Look, whatever he was told about me was not true, but I felt I could not stay in the light of distrust from Gqozo,” he says.
Notshe subsequently resigned from Gqozo’s cabinet and now practises at the Johannesburg Bar as an advocate.
With Notshe gone, Gqozo shifted his attention to Notshe’s deputy at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel Silence Pita. He ordered intelligence to gather information on him. Unbeknown to him, his regime and life were being controlled by the South African National Intelligence Service (NIS) as his regime was heavily infiltrated by NIS spies.
The levels of mistrust created in Gqozo’s regime created the Ciskei Republic, which was to operate a homeland-based intelligence service and which would later be called International Researchers-Ciskei Intelligence Service (IR-CIS). A retired SADF member had been tasked by South African intelligence (NIS) to work on Gqozo to buy into the idea of (IR-CIS), which he did.
The proposition put forward was twofold, according to an Intelligence document. The IR-CIS staff would form Gqozo’s backbone and they would report to him only.
Among those singled out in this operation were well-known apartheid spies Anton Nieuwoudt and Clive Brink. To date, Gqozo admits he was not aware they were serving members of the Intelligence Service and their sole mandate was to foster a wedge between him, the ANC and its allies.
This necessitated that – from time to time – Gqozo be fed with lies, deception and counter-intelligence propaganda. Gqozo’s manuscript recalls an incident when he was debriefed about pending coups and assassination attempts on his life. He does not deny that he accepted every intelligence report he was given as the gospel truth.
According to Mluleki George, former president of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and later South Africa’s deputy minister of defence and member of Congress of the People (Cope), there was no way Gqozo’s regime could have flourished. George described Gqozo as utterly paranoid, which in turn affected how he dealt with situations.
George and Gqozo’s friendship could not last beyond 1990 because Gqozo was now fighting with the ANC. He accused the ANC of being responsible for the commission of crimes against his regime and further plotting to overthrow him and his government.
It seems that those who served in Gqozo’s government were constrained by fear of losing their comfortable salaries and high standard of living. There is no doubt that the culture of fear forced those in government to conceal realities from him.
Survival still rules Oupa Gqozo’s life. When initially contacted for an interview, Gqozo constantly changed his cellphones and constantly asked this reporter to call at certain times because he does not use his phone regularly.
On my last visit to his Blacklands farm, near King William’s Town, he still kept an army bullet-proof vest in his office, which is always locked.
These days, the former homeland military leader boasts about being a reverend and receiving “messages from God”, which have further encouraged him to author his own account of his military rule. Among the locals in King William’s Town area, Gqozo is known as the “Butcher of Bhisho”.
He says he attended the International Assemblies of God Bible School in Rustenburg and is now an ordained minister. He seldom goes to King William’s Town, which is 20km away from his farm. The farm previously housed the Intelligence Service before he took over as the owner of the property. It is a shabby, old dilapidated farmhouse which he shares with his wife, Corinthian, and four of their children.
No one is employed or working in the family. The refusal by Gqozo to resign in the 1990s left him in an impecunious situation. If he had resigned, he could have received a sizeable pension. He also suffers from speech impairment after he was shot in the head, neck and chest on June 19, 2002. This left him with slurred speech, making it difficult for him to communicate effectively.
He has recently moved to Kroonstad in the Free State, where he is undergoing speech therapy, and learning how to speak again. His wife still lives in the Eastern Cape with their children.
Gqozo also suffered third-degree burn wounds in 2003 when he mistakenly filled a heater with petrol, instead of paraffin, which caused a massive explosion in his house.
Gqozo’s book has been rejected by a number of publishers and he continues to look for possible sponsors to help fund its publication.
He says he has started writing another book about the Bhisho massacre.
The Sunday Independent
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