African Oral Narratives
Military Intelligence in Apartheid-era South Africa

About the Collection

The oral narratives of individuals involved in military intelligence operations during the apartheid era in South Africa are part of the De Wet Potgieter collection in SAHA. De Wet Potgieter was contracted by SAHA to conduct, transcribe, and translate the interviews from 2009 to 2010 and to archive the resulting materials as part of his collection to complement both his documents pertaining to military intelligence, and the related Doug Lee photographs.

Interviews are with former high-ranking military intelligence officials in the South African Defence Force (SADF) and South African Police (SAP). Informants include Lieutenant Vic McPherson, SAP security branch policeman; Major-General Chris Thirion, deputy chief of staff in SADF Intelligence; General Johann van der Merwe, apartheid South Africa’s last police commissioner; Major-General Herman Stadler, head of the SAP security branch intelligence unit; Colonel Henk Heslinga, head of the Pretoria murder and robbery squad, double agent, and member of the Goldstone Commission; General Tienie Groenewald, chief director of military intelligence; Colonel Lucas Ras, SAP security branch; Inspector Joppie van Staden, police inspector attached to the bomb disposal unit, and Detective Warrant Officer Drummond Hammond, attached to the organised crime intelligence unit. Most of these interviews were conducted in Afrikaans, with only one interview in English. All interviews were conducted in Pretoria, formerly known as the 'capital of apartheid South Africa.'

The informants were not asked set questions, but each was given the opportunity to give a narrative of his own involvement in a particular event or topic in relation to military intelligence during the apartheid era in South Africa. The interviewer only very rarely interrupted to ensure the continuation of an account or to generally keep the interview on track. This allowed the interviewees to reveal sometimes sensitive information.

Interesting themes emerging from these interviews are military intelligence operatives’ involvement in several planned bombing incidents; first hand accounts of the SADF attacks and SAP security branch activities, including disclosure of interrogation techniques used by the security police; the poisoning of Rev. Frank Chikane; the threat of civil war before the 1994 elections, and the gathering of information by the SAP security branch on both the right-wing organisations and the ANC.

Doug Lee's photographs, many of which are a result of his teamwork with De Wet Potgieter (Doug Lee as news photographer and De Wet Potgieter as investigative journalist for the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper "Rapport" in the 1990s), augment the other materials in the De Wet Potgieter collection. Many of these images document historic events leading up to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. The photographs are also significant for their wide coverage of right-wing activities and events, including many images of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terre'Blanche, as well as images of former South African presidents PW Botha and FW de Klerk, Freedom Front leader Constand Viljoen, and former South African police commissioner, General Johann van der Merwe.

This collection of military intelligence materials is most significant for the opportunity it allows for the voice of the perpetrator to be heard, in most cases in the mother tongue language of Afrikaans. To actively seek such truth, and to document and make accessible the resulting materials ensures that SAHA, as an independent human rights archive, continues to dedicate itself to the documenting, supporting and promoting greater awareness of past and contemporary struggles for justice in South Africa - from all perspectives.