The Thami Zulu question

Paul Trewhela responds to Jeremy Gordin's criticism of Justice Malala concerning a death in exile

Jeremy Gordin's column, "The Justice Malala Question" (Politicsweb, 27 October), creates more confusion than clarity in relation to the death of the Umkhonto we Sizwe commander, Thami Zulu (real name, Muziwakhe Ngwenya, also known as TZ), in Lusaka  on 16 November 1989, three months before the unbanning of the ANC.

Gordin states "it was unknown who actually administered poison to TZ (if it was poison that killed him)".

The first half of this sentence is true. The second half is false.

Gordin mentions two articles on the subject from my book, Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO (Jacana, 2009), but he appears not to have read them properly.

There is no dispute that Thami Zulu was detained in Lusaka by the ANC security department, known as iMbokodo (the grindstone), for 17 months. He was released by iMbokodo, of which President Zuma was then one of the leaders, on 11 November 1989, five days before he died.

My book is clear that the ANC appointed a commission of inquiry into the death of TZ which included the subsequent Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs as its most eminent legal personage. The commission report states that TZ had entered detention as a 'large, well-built, slightly overweight person, and came out gaunt, frail and almost unrecognisable.' (quoted in Inside Quatro, p.103)

Forensic analysis showed that TZ had been suffering from a number of very serious ailments, including AIDS. Analysis both at University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, and in London found that Zulu's stomach contents "showed traces of diazinon, an organic phosphorus pesticide....The commissioners state that while they cannot express any certainty as to whether Zulu had been poisoned, they felt 'the likelihood was that he indeed was'...". (Inside Quatro, pp.103-104)

The presence of the poison diazinon in TZ's bloodstream was the conclusion of the ANC commission of inquiry itself. It continued: 'Three pints of beer in a twenty-four hour period and each containing a teaspoonful of diazinon could have been fatal.' (quoted in IQ, p.104) Diazinon is not accumulated in the body. It is excreted out. 'Thus,' the commission report continues, 'if it had been given to TZ it would necessarily have been given within a day or at most two days prior to his death.'

These are the words of the official report of an ANC internal commission of inquiry, signed by all four commissioners on 16 March 1990 and handed to the National Executive Committee very shortly afterwards. It was made public in August 1993 along with the report by the Motsuenyane Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in the ANC in exile.

The fact that TZ was poisoned is not in dispute.

My criticism of the commission, and particularly of Judge Sachs (as its most eminent member), is that it made no inquiry into who might have administered the poison.

This should have not have been difficult. TZ was housebound, he was very ill and too weak to have left the house to which he was sent after his release by iMbokodo, and diazinon was administered to him within at most two days of his death. These are not complex conditions for an ordinary criminal investigation.

He was also in the care of a senior ANC medical official, Dr Pren Naicker.

My original article on the death of Thami Zulu appeared in the banned exile magazine Searchlight South Africa (issue No.11) in October 1993. An Author's Note to its republication in Inside Quatro, dated 2009, states: "Dr Pren Naicker, who trained in medicine in Moscow, is the son of the late SACP and ANC leader, M.P. Naicker, a major political mentor of President Zuma when he was a a young man in Durban. On his return from exile, Dr Naicker became Brigadier-General Pren Naicker, head of the Military Health Service of the South African National Defence Force." (Inside Quatro, p.99)

Yes, it certainly is true, as Jeremy Gordin writes, that it remains "unknown who actually administered poison to TZ".

But that is because there has been no attempt to find out. 

It was never my argument, as Gordin states, that "In the view of Trewhela..., the ANC was responsible because it had detained TZ in appalling circumstances for a long time."

It was not his detention by iMbokodo that killed him. It was being poisoned three or four days after his release.

The case remains open.

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