How Mandela set up the Andre Lincoln unit

Then SA president's handwritten 1996 mandate effectively set the wheels in motion for the investigations

Mandela's 'intuitive' letter that unravelled a plot to murder him

Cape Town – On June 11 in 1996 then-president Nelson Mandela wrote a letter. Just longer than an A4 page, the letter ordered the creation of a secret investigative unit comprising specific police officers.

This letter set in motion a sensational string of events which have led to what is becoming one of the biggest cases in recent times to expose alleged underhanded apartheid-era dealings and entrenched corruption within the police service.

Mandela's neatly-penned letter is also, ironically, what appears to have led to the uncovering of an alleged plot to assassinate him at his 1994 inauguration.

Through other investigations, members of the elite unit came across an alleged plan by police to have Mandela killed.

Details of this plot emerged in the Western Cape High Court this week in a civil case brought by Major General Andre Lincoln.

Key figures

Names which have emerged in Lincoln's three days of testimony this week include that of former deputy president Thabo Mbeki, former safety and security minister Sydney Mufamadi, State Security Agency head Arthur Fraser, as well as those of a number of underworld figures and apartheid-era police officers.

Lincoln, who Mandela appointed in 1996 to head the elite investigative unit which was run separately from the police and which was focused on probing mafioso Vito Palazzolo, is claiming R15m in damages from the minister of safety and security (now the minister of police).

He believes fellow senior police officers realised that he had gathered intelligence on their plans, including one to murder Mandela, so they framed him.

Lincoln was discharged from the police service in October 2003 and reinstated in June 2010 after being acquitted of charges he effectively believes were fabricated because of his access to Mandela.

In court this week Lincoln testified that all the members of Mandela's task team were threatened with being charged.

Initial probe

He said during the unit's initial investigations it was uncovered that Simon Nothnagel, attached to the police's commercial crimes unit, was allegedly involved in a counterfeit US dollar operation.

These dollars, according to Lincoln's testimony, were printed at the police headquarters in Pretoria.

This investigation had then led them to uncover the alleged plot to kill Mandela and recover, in police offices, a "handcrafted rifle to be used".

"Necessary steps were taken to prevent the assassination of the president," Lincoln testified.

But he said that nothing ever came of the investigation.

Seated in the public gallery of the courtroom this week were, among others, police officers and lawyers.

They questioned what would have happened if the apparent plot had not been uncovered and chatted about "the unprecedented bloodbath" the murder of Mandela could have sparked.

Mandela's mandate

It was therefore Mandela's handwritten 1996 mandate that effectively set the wheels in motion for the investigations which led to the probe into the murder plot.

Mandela's letter, which News24 has a copy of and which has since become an exhibit in court, was written to then-national police commissioner George Fivaz.

It requested that eight police officers, whom he listed by rank and name, be immediately relieved of all other duties.

Lincoln was the first on the list.

"It is further requested that Director Andre Lincoln be relocated to Cape Town so that he takes overall responsibility of the unit as well as the management of the entire operation," Mandela's letter said.

The shredder

He wrote that the monthly running costs of the unit were to be R28 000.

Among the "technical resources" Mandela requested for the unit were two cars, three computers and printers, two cellphones, three laptops, a fax machine and a photocopier.

More ominously, he requested "1 shredder".

The letter was simply signed "Mandela", under which he wrote "President".

Lincoln's case is set to resume on Monday.