The 1977 murder of up-and-coming National Party politician Robert Smit and his wife Jeanne-Cora remains one of the greatest unsolved political crimes of the apartheid-era.
Smit had served as South Africa's ambassador to the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC between 1971 and 1974. He had then returned to South Africa where he had taken up a position with Santam International.
Smit was standing as the National Party candidate in the Springs constituency and had rented a house in Selcourt, Springs, where he and his wife were staying. The expectation was that Smit would assume a high-up position in government after the election.
On the evening of November 22 1977 Jeanne Cora Smit phoned the secretary at her husband's constituency office to tell him that "his guests are waiting for him." As she put the phone down she was shot three times. As Robert Smit walked through the door sometime later he was shot in the neck, and then again, from close range, in the head.
The bodies were discovered early the next morning. Robert Smit had also been stabbed once in the back, and his wife14 times with a stiletto. The letters "RAU TEM" had been written - in red spray paint - across the fridge and kitchen walls.
From early on rumours started circulating that someone high-up in the ruling Afrikaner establishment had ordered the assassination. Particular suspicion fell on Hendrik van den Bergh, the head of the Bureau for State Security (BfSS), and a man who had once claimed to know everything that was going on in South Africa. It was reported at the time that Smit had stumbled on a high level scandal - involving some kind of foreign currency racket - and was planning on blowing the whistle following his election to parliament.
In 1997 Roy Allen - a former member of the Security Branch (SB), Bureau and Police Special Task Force (STM) - was named, by Beeld, as the police's "main suspect" in the murders. Allen vehemently denied the allegations both then and again in 2006 when they re-surfaced. In the following article Allen provides his view of the murder and explains why he believes two deceased former colleagues were involved in the killings. - James Myburgh, Politicsweb Editor
Roy Allen on the Smit murders
The news of the Smit murders in 1977 was a bolt out of the blue. Both I and my girlfriend were astounded, as we searched for a motive.... Ida had worked for Dr Smit for about 6 to 8 months in the preceding year, when he was the chief of Santam International. They worked from a two person office in the Johannesburg CBD. I had met him on one or two occasions whilst picking Ida up from his offices. He seemed like a very nice guy.
Before this Ida had worked as a secretary to P.W. Botha when he was Minister of Defence. She had a Top Secret clearance from the Military, which made her suitable for employment in such a confidential post with Dr Smit. She was also later to work as the secretary of Fanie Botha, the then Minister of Labor, before going on to work for Prof Wiehahn when he was conducting the inquiry that became known as the "Wiehahn Commission". She never discussed the nature of her work at any of these "jobs" with me, and was fanatically loyal towards her government bosses.
Try as I might, I could not bring anything into the context of the political set up that existed within the RSA at the time, to work out what the words "RAU TEM" meant. I could only infer that these cryptic letters had meaning for some person/s involved with the Smits - as this was clearly a message or warning of sorts. After a while however, the whole thing passed and receded into history.
At the time I had wondered, could it have been Col Dries Verwey - my commander at the Police Special Task Force? I was thus not totally surprised when his driver asked me in the ensuing days, if I had been involved with Verwey in the murders. This seemed to bear out what I had been thinking. His driver knew Verwey very well. He was also aware that I had conducted extra-judicial operations with him in Cape Town.
My suspicions that Verwey could have been involved are NOT founded on any clues at all - for instance there were no 'Smit briefcases' in Verwey's office safe, as has been alleged - rather just a well developed gut feeling/sixth sense.
Dries Verwey and Phil Freeman
You ask then "why" did I think this way? A valid question... It was because I had been witness to the cold menace of Verwey's anger and privy to some of the goods and devices that accompanied him from his D-4 Section, at Security Branch (SB) HQ. In his special room at SB HQ he had silenced weapons of many different types and calibres, poisoned bottles of exotic Portuguese liquor that were popular in Mozambique/Angola at the time, Zambian police officer uniforms and cell keys, and transistor radios that were 'loaded' with deadly explosives that would blow up anyone switching them on.
There were also parcel bombs made in seized copies of Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book". These bombs were made with surgical precision, with the "Pentolite" poured into the hollowed out inside in molten form... The way the pages were surgically cut and glued, the placement and affixing of the micro-switch and the 'arming' device, was like looking at the innards of a Swiss timepiece...
This was typical handiwork of Phil Freeman, who was a perfectionist. And when Verwey and Freeman had both been at BfSS, they had worked very closely together, as well as in the Security Police, long before the inception of BfSS.
To give an example of Freeman's attention to detail: Back in 1972 I still smoked. After lighting a cigarette, I would let the match burn 3/4 and then grip the burnt end and let the rest burn out. Phil said that this was a unique characteristic that would link me to any location where I had smoked a cigarette, and that I should desist from such identifiable habits!!!
At the time I was doing "jobs" with another BfSS member, and wherever we went, my "Tag" that I spray-painted in red at the scene, was a Russian "Hammer and Sickle". Being left handed I did it the wrong way around - i.e. a mirror image of the correct way. Phil cautioned me about this idiosyncrasy as it could lead directly back to me. He was a very, very focussed and astute man, who had he remained in the British Military after WW-2, would have surely ended up as Chief of Special Operations for the British Forces.
Only the oldest former Security Branch members will recall the early Sixties -"Rivonia", "Lilliesleaf" etc - when the SB arrested Mandela and his fellow terrorists at "Lilliesleaf" farm. They had been blowing up power pylons, and sabotaging State infrastructure.
Two of these "rats", Goldreich and Wolpe, were detained at "Marshall Square" in Johannesburg. Whilst in the cells, they "duped' a young constable into allowing them to escape in exchange for a brand new car (costing about R1200 and R1,500 in cash) At the time the monthly wage for a Cst was about R70 - before deductions.....)
They escaped to Lesotho disguised as priests, and from there flew on a chartered single-engined A/C to Gaborone in Botswana. From Gaborone, they were due to fly to Tanzania - or Tanganyika as I think it was still called at the time. A CAA (Central African Airways) aircraft, a DC-3 Dakota was flown to Gab's. Whilst on the ground in Gab's it was set alight one night and burned to the ground. This was done by Phil Freeman and "another". (At the time I was in Std 8 at school.) This was long before the inception of the South African Special Forces...
The SA Police, in the early Sixties had "Hard Men" to conduct operations like this. (They had attended courses in France, and practiced their 'skills' with the French in the Algerian insurgency.)
Whilst Phil never admitted to me that he was involved in the DC-3 sabotage, we came very close to destroying the private jet of a mining conglomerate at D.F. Malan Airport in Cape Town in 1973/4. It had been put at the disposal of student leaders to travel between Cape Town and Johannesburg. This was due to weather and 'other' reasons that sometimes delayed the departure of the SAA flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, which sometimes caused the student leaders to miss their connecting flight to conferences in Europe - only arriving a day late.
Phil had made a "fire brick" to destroy the aircraft with. It had the consistency of hard fudge and was a mixture of aluminium or magnesium and sulphur. Placed on the wing - it burned at an extremely high temperature (5000 C) - and would melt the aluminium wing structure like butter, passing through the wing fuel tanks and ensuring the total destruction of the aeroplane. I am sure that this was the method that was used to destroy the CAA DC-3 in Gaborone. (As the way Phil talked at the time, was the way one talks about something that you have already done before..)
Phil was a master of whatever he chose to do. He was an electronics buff and also a perfectionist on the lathe. He made a silencer in 1974 that was the quietest silencer that I had ever heard.. Phil even had a kiddies dummy/teat over the end of the silencer, to allow the projectile to exit and then to immediately close after the projectile, to stop any 'air noise'.
It was around 1974 and I was getting itchy feet with the inaction at BfSS - not the fault of the Organization - solely mine, as I was the square peg in a round hole. Around this time Phil had been working with Jan Breytenbach from the SADF. They were experimenting with shaped charges at the Naval shooting range in Simonstown (Redhill comes to mind.) Jan Breytenbach was with the SADF Infantry base at Oudtshoorn at the time, and Phil encouraged me to join the Army and go and work for Jan.
I was happier re-joining the SAP, as at least it was a culture that I was familiar with - and I was hoping to go and fight in Rhodesia. So I re-joined the SAP in about April 1975 - the Security Branch. However before I could arrange to volunteer for service in Rhodesia, the South African Prime Minister John Vorster withdrew the SAP from that country ....
Fortunately, shortly after my return to the SAP, David Protter attacked the Israeli Embassy in Fox St Johannesburg, and as a consequence of the SA Police's poor showing during the siege the "Sanheidrin" decided that the SAP needed an SAS/GSG/SWAT type of anti terrorist unit. This was the conception of the Task Force.
After successfully completing STM selection, Phil 'gifted' me with a MAT-49. It was a French version of the British 'Sten'. Phil had made a silencer for it from a car shock-absorber - which screwed onto the end of the barrel. It was extremely quiet, with 'low velocity' ammunition. It now resides at the bottom of the Hartebeespoort Dam, in small pieces....
In Cape Town, Phil had modified a pellet gun to the proportions of a "sawn-off" shot gun. Only cut very short. Inside the "shotgun like" tube you place a very thin glass tube containing cyanide or some gas. At the end of the barrel, there was a very fine copper gauze. (To arrest the fragments of the glass capsule so that they do not end up in the face of the dead target.) The way to use it, was to place it in a folded newspaper. Get up close to the target in the bus or Metro, and discharge the device at his face. The whooshing noise and surprise would cause him to inhale quickly, inhaling a deadly lungful of cyanide gas - resulting in instant death. This was never used on humans, but he told me that he had tested it on a dog, and it had worked 100%.
Phil had a direct line of communication to General Hendrik van den Bergh - the head of BfSS - as is borne out by the following:
At BfSS in Cape Town, Phil was the Technical Chief, and fell under the jurisdiction of the Regional Representative. On one occasion Phil required a substantial amount of money for some 'Black' Z Squad operation - He required about R400 - which in 1972 was a lot of money! Not even the regional Representative, Hennie Botha, knew what the operation was about, but he was curious, and insisted that Phil provide him with the detail op the operation, before he would authorize the funds. Phil refused to provide any details of his operation so Hennie refused to authorize payment of the monies to Phil.
That evening Phil got in his Ranchero and drove throughout the night to Pretoria, where he saw General Van den Bergh the next morning. The Regional Rep was overruled by Van den Bergh and Phil was back in Cape Town later that evening. Hennie Botha never 'f***ed' with Phil again...
Killing the enemy, I expressly do not use the word 'murder', was probably something that came easily for 'Delta Victor' (Verwey). He received the SA Police's highest medal for bravery for some operation in Zambia/Botswana. It was done in the Commissioner's office, as no mention was made about it in 'dispatches'. He was heavily involved in the Portuguese PIDE effort in Mozambique against FRELIMO, and this was a 'no holds barred' war by a desperate and cruel Portuguese Military Dictatorship. (I do not criticize his/the Portuguese' actions, and I would have followed a similar course of action, had I been involved at the time).
His other partner in the "Smit affair" was most probably Phil Freeman. I have thought about long and hard about the Smit murders since 1996 when the allegations of my involvement - as well as that of Phil and Verwey - arose in the SA media. The following is a possible set-out for what transpired:
- Phil drives up from Cape Town and meets Verwey at a motel on the East Rand where a room is booked in a false name. He would have used his subsidized vehicle with false plates. This way, there would be no air ticket records, and Phil would have disconnected the speedometer on his BfSS subsidized vehicle so as not to have to explain excessive mileage.
- Phil travels overnight, arriving mid morning and sleeps for most of the day. Verwey arrives late afternoon, and they go over the final planning for the mission in the motel room - consuming takeaway food Verwey supplied. Verwey has a stolen car that they use for the mission, and he provides the weapon/s. (There would be no drinking before the "Ops").
- After completion of the mission, they return to the Motel, to shower and get rid of their bloodstained clothing. Both have one celebratory 'dop' of Whisky, and then Verwey drives the car to a remote area adjoining a black township on the West Rand, where he torches the vehicle. Phil then drops him off at his 'official' vehicle safely parked somewhere in Springs or environs.
- Verwey goes back home to Pretoria and Phil drives back to Cape Town, arriving in the early hours - and phoning in 'sick' to take the day off to rest. Phil would not have left the contaminated clothing in the stolen vehicle they set alight, just in case it did not burn out properly. He would have taken it with him, and stopped somewhere in the middle of the desolate Karoo. He would have completely burnt it out with petrol, then stirred the ashes and burnt it again.)
It was only about 10 years after the Smit murders, whilst I was stationed in Oshakati with the SADF, that an old friend from my SB days in Cape Town, now a Major with the SB in Oshakati, mentioned to me that he had been approached by the investigating team in the Smit murders in 1977 about my possible involvement in the murders.
They apparently thought I might have done it if Robert Smit (who was a real 'ladies man') had been having an affair with Ida, whilst she worked for him. They wanted to clandestinely search my apartment in Silverton, where Ida and I were living in 1977/8. I am unaware if they did, in fact, do so.
Phil Freeman was a fierce anti-Communist and a true patriot of South Africa and Western values. He was neither a criminal nor a thug!! I personally cannot see him becoming involved in something like this, just for the sake of protecting corrupt members of the National Party who might have been transferring Government monies to off-shore accounts for their personal enrichment. He was vehemently opposed to both the Broederbonders and the Freemasons, who seemed to have a 50/50% following in the SA Police/BfSS at the time.
The whole matter changes radically however, if he were told that Smit was working for the Soviet Union. Then he would not have had any qualms in killing them both.
Many earlier versions allege that there were four individuals involved: Dries Verwey, Phil Freeman, myself and another founder-member of the Police Special Task Force.
However, only two persons were required for this operation! Two would be the safe number in the event of unforeseen complications - which could possibly overwhelm a lone operator. Additional unneeded team members would only serve to complicate matters and potentially compromise the security of this "event".
Later allegations by ex "NI" and SAP clowns like Taai Minnaar, Ponnie Van Vuuren, Vuil Oosthuizen and others, of "cleaner squads" sanitizing the scene after the "event" - and Smit's briefcase being seen in Verwey's safe - are utter rubbish! Crooks like Minnaar were solely motivated by greed and self enrichment.
I also discount the view that the murders were carried out by a foreign hit squad. History is littered with examples of instances where somebody employed another to kill someone. And after the killing the murderer kept returning for more 'silence money', before eventually spilling the beans. There was all the more reason for the 'hired killers' to come out and own up to the story after the National Party transferred power to the ANC in 1994. Yet all that has been heard is a deathly silence.
In around 1977/8 Phil and his wife emigrated from the RSA to Brittany in France. They returned to South Africa sometime in the mid-1980s. I was in the SADF in South West Africa at the time and only remade contact with him in the early 1990s. I last saw Phil in Cape Town in 1992/3, when I was working for the Military in Pretoria. My work took me to Cape Town over a weekend, from time to time, and I would invariably enjoy a Sunday lunch and visit, with Phil and his charming wife, before flying back to Johannesburg.
Phil never referred to this matter during the course of our conversations. The 'protocols' in the intelligence services are, never to raise sensitive subjects like these - unless they were raised by the 'operator'.
In conclusion I am, sadly, of the opinion that the Smit murders will never be solved. This is a pity for their children who would like some closure on the matter - and my heart goes out to them.....
The reasons that I believe this are twofold:
- It was the "perfect murder", executed by professionals,
- The perpetrators are all dead...
My main purpose for compiling this narrative is simply to offer a possible explanation of how this criminal event could have occurred.
I believe that the persons mentioned above were in all probability the perpetrators of the murders. And by association with them I include myself. (The fourth member has been- unfairly and wrongly - dragged along due to his association/friendship with me... Exactly as I was due to my association/friendship with Verwey/Freeman...)
I am quite frank when I state unequivocally, that had I been involved I would now admit to it and face the appropriate sanction. As an Atheist, my imminent mortality does not bother me, in the least.... It is rather more an issue of what is right.....
Hopefully, somebody reading this, and who had some knowledge of the 'matter' will, on reading this, decide to break the 'log-jam' and tell what they know. Possibly a Police investigating officer at the murder scene, or some other bureaucrat within the Civil Service who had privy to this matter?
I believe that "you' owe it to yourself, South Africa and the Smit children.......
Roy Allen - Australia
 Editor's note: Dries Verwey was reported to have started drinking heavily after the Smit murders. He died on October 26 1980. The circumstances of his death are contested. It was reported in 2006 that while he was supposed to have committed suicide, the suspicion was that he had been taken out. His widow subsequently denied this, saying he had died of a heart attack - and this was reflected on the death certificate. Phil Freeman died in a shooting accident in his garden in the early 1990s. Foul play was not suspected in his death.