How the apartheid government turned the ocean into a graveyard

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How the apartheid government turned the ocean into a graveyard

Ex-security force members describe how, from the late 1970s, activists were murdered and dumped in the sea

Michael Schmidt

In the late 1970s, as the apartheid government fought a desperate and dirty battle to stay in power, its security forces devised a chilling tactic. A shadowy, top­-secret unit called Delta 40 was established, tasked with the murder of hundreds of ANC, PAC and Swapo members. Victims’ bodies were flung from aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South West Africa (Namibia). Michael Schmidt’s new book, Death Flight: Apartheid’s Secret Doctrine of Disappearance, exposes these sinister missions. In this extract from chapter 28, informants Danie Phaal and Johan Theron testify to crimes committed in some of apartheid’s darkest hours.

Danie Phaal testified that at one stage at Fort Rev, sometime in 1983, he was instructed to give “a Swapo soldier” some orange juice into which he had mixed a substance from an eyedrop bottle; he said he had chatted to the man in his cell and had then drunk an untainted cup of orange juice as the man unwittingly drank his orange juice. The next day, the intelligence officer, presumably a Military Intelligence interrogator at Fort Rev or 5 Recce’s Captain Dave Drew, “called me and said I must come and look as there is something wrong with the man. I accompanied him to the cell. With our arrival, we saw that the man must have lost a lot of blood. There was even blood on his calves and against the toilet bowl, and on the floor of the cell ... ” The dose must have been a haemorrhagic agent, such as Warfarin. The man was flown to 1 Military Hospital for observation, but Phaal was told later that he had died.

On Sunday February 13 1983, Phaal received instructions — he did not say from whom, but it was most likely Kat Liebenberg — that a Barnacle member named Christopher, whom he had trained as a parachutist, had to be eliminated as he was planning on defecting back to Zimbabwe while on leave. Phaal met Trevor Floyd at midday and they came up with the cover story that they had a task to perform in the town of Messina (today Musina), just south of the Beit Bridge border-crossing into Zimbabwe, and so could offer Christopher a lift...

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