How Anti-Apartheid Groups Funded Apartheid
It was an intelligence game, and when you were in it, you didn’t think much about the consequences. you played a role; you played the game. But a lot of the people we involved ourselves in were either arrested or imprisoned, and some of them died. Because in the end, it was not a game. — Craig Williamson, Agent RS 183 for the Apartheid South African Government
On 2 January 1980, Arthur McGiven defected from his position with the Special Branch of the South African Police to the British, carrying a stack of secret papers wrapped in a towel. Those papers uncovered one of the most successful spy operations of the twentieth century being run by the Apartheid South African government. It was an operation so audacious that even today it is hard to believe: the South African government managed to infiltrated the foreign anti-apartheid movement so thoroughly that millions of dollars donated to the anti-apartheid cause actually ended up in the hands of the government perpetuating the institution.
Arthur McGiven defected because he was gay, and in apartheid South Africa, being gay was not as bad as being a communist, but it was very close. When Craig Williamson, ensconced in Geneva, Switzerland, saw him on the television news that January in 1980, he knew there was going to be a problem.
In 1976, Williamson had approached the Swedish head of the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), a well-known funder of anti-apartheid groups within South Africa, with what he described as a sure-fire way to circumvent the ever-more-strict rules put in place by the South African government on movement of money.
Meeting in Botswana, Williamson described to Lars-Gunnar Eriksson a series of trusts that could be funneled through an academic with impeccable liberal credentials as well as a Danish bakery in Johannesburg, and Williamson knew just the man for the job.
Eriksson took the bait. What he didn’t suspect was that the academic dangled in front of him, a Anglo-Spanish man named Eduardo Joel Fabio Barraclough, was a creation of the Special Branch as well. Barraclough’s credentials were as a fine-arts professor at the University of the Witwatersrand were manufactured by his handlers. Those working with him in the Fine Arts Department came close to the truth – they thought him incompetent, and possibly a fraud in regards to credentials. But even their statements about Barraclough’s abilities were turned around by journalists who were also working with the Special Branch, who created an aura of the free-thinking uber-liberal artist who challenged everyone’s ideas and most especially those of the provincial South African arts scene.
“…uninitiated eyes [in South Africa] cannot distinguish between work of amateurs and professionals,” Barraclough was heard to say.
Later, Barraclough would move to Madrid, where he would attend every conference of anti-apartheid activists in Europe under the name Pablo Valls. He even attended a 1980 summit in Geneva between the South African government and SWAPO. Barraclough/Valls spent the days catering to the SWAPO party, and the nights delivering reports on everything they did and said to the South African government.
The money funneled by Barraclough even helped Williamson to purchase a property on behalf of the Special Branch on the outskirts of Pretoria. The R40,000 came from the IUEF, who was told it was for youth training. Assuming the youth being trained were anti-apartheid activists, Eriksson delegated the funding. But Daisy Farm, as it was known, was used to train the operatives of the apartheid regime, as well as for interrogations and torture.
“Here the prisoners were interrogated,” said former Special Branch leader Dirk Coetzee. “Some of them died.”
There was a balancing act to the network Williamson was running. At one point the Dane Poul Brandrup was taken on a visit to Daisy Farm under the impression that it was for training anti-apartheid activists. Millions of Danish Kroner had been donated to the IEUF, and a modicum of oversight was expected. Brandrup accepted the explanations about the activities on Daisy Farm without question.
“I cannot criticize him for being naive, because when you come from a country like Denmark and the major political fight you have been involved in is an academic discussion at the university about democratic socialism versus Marxism you have no idea what you are up against. The farm was a highly romantic place in the middle of the bush, and here he met people that allegedly worked underground against the apartheid regime – and some of them were blacks. The guys were good at their job.” –Craig Williamson
But when Williamson saw McGiven and his papers on the television, he knew the game was up. His name was in those files, along with his unsavory activities. He contacted the head of the Special Branch and asked to come home. Williamson’s program had been so successful, though, that the South African government wanted to give it one last-ditch effort before dismantling everything. General Johan Coetzee flew to Geneva, and together with Williamson confronted Lars-Gunner Eriksson with the truth.
When Eriksson was informed that his wildly successful anti-apartheid organization was actually funding and passing information to the apartheid government, he went numb with shock. But there was more to come: Williamson had watched and seen how fast and loose Eriksson played with accounting and women. Eriksson was to keep the organization humming along, or everything would be exposed. The stupified Swede stumbled from the room.
A few days later he revealed everything in a press conference with the British newspaper The Guardian. The shock of what he had been an unwitting participant in proved to be too much for Eriksson to live with, and he died at age 49.
Williamson needed to go back to South Africa, and he needed to do so quickly. His career running an undercover espionage network was done.
Upon his return to South Africa he was greeted by many as a hero. He continued his work with Special Branch, and by the time a new government was elected in South Africa in 1994, he racked up multiple political assassinations. He was responsible for the mail bomb that killed Ruth First in Mozambique, another mail bomb that killed activist Jeanette Schoon and her six-year-old daughter in Angola, and the bomb that was set off at the ANC offices in London. Minutes of certain government meetings also show that Williamson was plotting to overthrow the government of Mozambique.
When Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa in 1994, he introduced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The purpose of the TRC was to get as much information about the crimes under apartheid as possible, and as such amnesty was available to those who testified openly and honestly about their actions. The TRC was highly controversial, as it included crimes committed by anti-apartheid activists as well as those of the apartheid government.
Craig Williamson applied for, and was granted, amnesty.
For further information about South Africa’s history, please click here.