Government plotted to kill ANC leader

Wednesday, September 11, 1991

By Norm Dixon

The South African government was involved in a plot to assassinate a leader of the African National Congress as part of a coup in the "independent" Transkei bantustan. The target was Chris Hani, a senior member of the ANC's national leadership and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) chief of staff.

The progressive weekly New Nation on August 15 published a leaked 12-page memorandum to the government of F.W. de Klerk which discussed options for overthrowing the government of the Transkei. The Transkei ruler, Major-General Bantu Holomisa, has expressed support for the goals of the liberation movement and provided sanctuary to members of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's armed wing.

The memorandum, from conspirators within the Transkei administration (the "Transkei Group"), suggests that the South African Defence Force (SADF) blockade Transkei military bases to support a coup.

New Nation says the message proposed a coup d'etat "led either by us with RSA [Republic of South Africa] backing or by the Transkei police with connivance of the RSA". It added that guerilla war was also a "viable option" but added that it would require "manpower, hardware and financial resources".

New Nation reported evidence that an abortive coup against the Transkei regime last November was backed by the South African authorities. Transkei police were told by one of those involved, Vulindlela Mbotoli, that a sum of 50,000 rands for the purchase of weapons was channelled through a known South African agent to the plotters.

Mbotoli is a director of a company that was found to be linked with the South African security forces by an inquiry into SADF-operated death squads.

Mbotoli said he had also met twice with Inkatha officials to discuss the plot. The first time, in 1989, was with Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, and the second, just prior to the coup attempt, with a cabinet minister of the Inkatha-ruled KwaZulu bantustan. He reported that the Inkatha leaders "expressed concern to have in the Transkei a government which would make it easier for them to launch Inkatha there".

Mbotoli also met with the pro-Pretoria ruler of the Ciskei bantustan, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo, who introduced him to Ciskei intelligence officer Nkosekaya Gobingca, now also under arrest in

the Transkei.

The scandal deepened further on August 22, when New Nation reported that the SADF was implicated in a plan to assassinate Bantu Holomisa and Chris Hani, a resident of the Transkei.

The assassinations had been scheduled for April 25. The planning again involved the Ciskei regime. Meetings were held between SADF officers and Oupa Gqozo. Meetings also took place at the home of a Ciskei representative for the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

The killings were to have been carried out by members of the Transkei Group, and the SADF was then to move in, in response to a request for assistance to "maintain law and order", and search for MK bases. The coup and military occupation would coincide with a disinformation campaign claiming that MK guerillas planned armed attacks on civilians to disrupt talks between the ANC and the South African government.

Mbotoli was to succeed Holomisa, and his accomplice, Gobingca, would also be part of the new regime. This regime would then move to merge the Ciskei and Transkei bantustans.

The April plot came unstuck when Transkei security officials arrested Mbotoli for his involvement in the November plot.

In late August, the South African police admitted they knew of the planned military takeover of the Transkei and the plot to kill Holomisa and Hani. The South African foreign affairs department also admitted knowledge of the plan for a coup. Police spokesperson Craig Kotze said that a Warrant Officer Jordaan was instructed to warn Nkosekaya Gobingca not to go ahead with the plans.

New Nation responded to the admissions by posing a number of important questions to President de Klerk:

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  • Were the Transkei authorities warned that a coup was possibly being planned against the Holomisa government?

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  • Why was Holomisa not told about plans for his assassination?

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  • Why was the ANC, which was at the time engaged in talks with the government, not told of plans to assassinate Chris Hani, one of its National Executive Committee members?

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  • Why was Gobingca, with whom the South African police were in contact, not arrested and questioned about rumours of a coup?"
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