What really motivates Paul Trewhela to peddle lies against Zuma?

Musa Xulu responds to the efforts to link the ANC president's name to wrongdoing in exile

I've now read three of Mr Paul Trewhela's articles in which he attempts to bring to the fore the so called "dark side" of Zuma's exile years. The first two I initially thought didn't need to be challenged. However, after his third vitriolic article, "The Thami Zulu murder: a war of words" (see here), this insistence on making an issue out of a non-issue, namely the death of Thami Zulu (real name Muziwakhe Ngwenya), concerns me.

At the risk of being misunderstood, I must hasten to clarify that one is by no means suggesting that a death of a senior comrade is a non issue but rather that this is a closed matter which was investigated 17 years ago by an ad hoc structure of the ANC, the Skweyiya commission, with another report by Motsuenyane. In all their findings, the movement found no wrong doing on the part of all those who headed the applicable security structures at the time. The Motsuenyane enquiry in particular, according to Chapter II Volume IV of the TRC as contained in Polity, "was a public and independent enquiry to which anyone could bring evidence about such abuses, and a significant number of individuals did so. This enquiry is, in fact, recognised in some of the international literature as a truth commission in its own right" it says.

The report goes on to state further that, "the Commission believes that this was an unprecedented step for a liberation movement to take, and that the ANC should be commended for setting a high standard in this regard. It regrets that it did not receive the same level of co-operation from other structures and organisations in the compiling of this report" albeit "much of the detail contained came from the ANC's own enquiries and submissions to the Commission..." The Skweyiya commission of inquiry's report was published in 1992 and importantly, it too absolved Zuma of any blame for the fate which befell Mr Ngwenya.

Despite these findings the articles by Trewhela are riddled with serious allegations against Zuma; ranging from accusing him of an error in judgement, to dereliction of duty, to failing to oversee operations under his command to, at worst, being guilty of human rights violations himself. Under normal circumstances, any writing of this nature would deserve special attention and praise, but it falls short because of its ulterior motives.

It is for this reason that the contents thereof cannot go unchallenged. Trewhela is barking up the wrong tree. The charges he levels against the president of the ANC are vociferous yet a closer look at them reveals that they are baseless and that he has not done his homework properly.

Whilst Trewhela doesn't directly take a swipe at Zuma he insinuates that he is guilty by association. He suggests that as the overall head of Intelligence and commander in chief of iMbokodo, Zuma is ultimately responsible and thus should be held accountable for the torture, ill treatment, barbaric and human rights violations of suspected spies that took place in the holding cells under his watchful eye. He would have us believe that his is the only account which is correct on this matter - to the extent that he is willing to even oppose the account of events from people who were actually part of the security/Intelligence set up of the ANC in exile.

A case in point is Adv Oyama Mabandla (pseudonym Tshepo Sechaba) whom Paul misquotes but correctly identifies as a "reliable information feeder to Professor Stephen Ellis in his book ‘Comrades against Apartheid: The South African Communist Party and the ANC in Exile'". Mabandla wrote, on his own volition in response to an earlier article by Trewhela, that, "as one of only few living people quoted in the article, I distance myself..." What therefore informs Trewhela, or convinces him that his account of what happened in those camps (or holding cells as it were), is the solemn truth and that everyone else is wrong or covering up?

Like other people of his ilk, namely Patrick Laurence and Jacob Dlamini, who subscribe to this line of thinking he is adamant that the dark side of Zuma should not be ignored. The suggestion from all of them is that Zuma is a gross human rights violator and he is a danger to society and, as such, he is not fit to hold high office. The implication is that South Africans are fast asleep and should be wary of this "wolf in a sheep's skin" in the person of Zuma. The trio see themselves as the Godsend angels who are here to wake us all up to the dangers being posed by Zuma's rise and rise to the union buildings.

A reference is also made of Dr Pallo Jordan 's torrid time for a few weeks whilst he was in those Nazi type holding cells. Another example brought up is how the influential guerrilla and MK activist Benjamin Langa - who apparently turned state witness - was shot by Lucky Payi and Sipho Xulu.

I was not in exile but the question that is on my mind is who is feeding Trewhela with this clearly false information? The people who were in exile in the ANC camps speak highly of Zuma save for those who flouted policies. I have interacted with numerous MK guerrillas since their return from exile and many agree that Zuma is not the animal that he is being made out to be.

They tell us that he was instead a voice of reason and did the best he could under the circumstances. Their account is that whenever the leadership had failed to placate protesting MK soldiers he would be sent to talk to them. He was highly successfully at calming the situation down, without using under handed tactics.

Further testimony in this regard is provided by the MKMVA's endorsement of Zuma as their preferred ANC presidential candidate leading to the 2007 National Conference. If Zuma was a monster, the MKMVA would have been the first to denounce his candidacy. After all, it is the organisation which represents the interests of our military veterans some of whom would either have served under him or the tutelage of those who reported directly to him.

There is another distinguished writer, Dr Xolela Mangcu - with an added impetus from a reader (N. Mbatha) - who has challenged Trewhela's articles. Like them I fail to understand the rationale behind these accusations. Unless of course he is motivated by a desire to disgrace Zuma and make him appear as a "monster who is not fit to hold high office"; because of the suggested "gross human rights violations" that supposedly took place during his tenure as Head of Intelligence. For the record, Zuma's success in curbing or keeping the ANC away from apartheid agents, outwitting and outsmarting their handlers (i.e. the apartheid government), is unparalleled and it is there for all to marvel at.

The apartheid government could not bring themselves to accept that a self taught individual without any formal education was able to counter all their attempts to infiltrate the movement - considering that they had hired professors to develop their strategies.

It is my suspicion that for this reason they (through Paul Trewhela) doubt the information to the effect that Zuma didn't go to school which is why Paul suggests that he is a Soviet graduate. Even after Prof Vladimir Shubin wrote a piece to correct him in his erroneous reading of his book, he still insists on it saying that he "doubts that the publisher and author could have gotten things so horribly wrong, you be the judge...".

The other question I ask myself is why now? As in why start raising moral questions so many years after these events took place? I cannot of course rule out the possibility that since the NPA's case of false corruption charges is falling flat on its face, the latter (i.e. NPA) is trying to cultivate fertile grounds for a new charge sheet to be fabricated in substitution of the former charges which are "expected to be dropped".

The above scenario was previously put in the public domain as a test whereby the NPA was said to be pursuing those - by implication in the ANC - who didn't apply for amnesty. It is common knowledge that Zuma like all other ANC leaders didn't receive amnesty because their application for a blanket amnesty failed. It would seem that the agent provocateurs, the likes of Mr Trewhela, didn't get the desired response hence this attempt to bring this non issue to the fore.

This is a classic case of the saying, "if you repeat lies often enough, it eventually becomes the truth". I for one am not convinced that Zuma is a monster. Unless credible information is brought forward only then can this charge stand. But no smear campaigns, please. For my part I have never had any affinity or sympathy for those who spied against the ANC or those who were suspected to have been spies for that matter. Hence I won't entertain any suggestion that torturing them to get information is wrong.  How else was the ANC intelligence dept going to get information out of them because the suspects would not have voluntarily given them this information?

I am not an intelligence person, but it is my belief that whenever someone is being suspected of being a double agent, they would be followed around for a while first in order to verify the correctness or lack thereof of information which links them to being an apartheid spy. This would be meant to determine as to who do they meet with and why? Who do they call and why? What is being discussed when they meet that can't be discussed openly? And why does one look for a public phone away from the camps and why the secrecy? Why does one visit "dead spots" and what messages are hidden in those "dead letter drops" etc.? It is also my belief that whilst the ANC was being infiltrated, its counter intelligence unit would also have proactively infiltrated the ranks of the apartheid regime's security apparatus with a view to getting a head start on what it planned to do against the ANC. Therefore any information they acted on would have had a high degree of truth. But I accept that in anything there is a margin of error or devious intent.

Whilst one acknowledges that professional jealousy could at times have been the reason behind false accusations of spying against comrades, but if a cadre's behaviour was beyond reproach their colleagues would have defended them or the counter intelligence information gathered whilst monitoring their every move would have exonerated them.

Even in the townships, we used to have such instances where comrades and/or innocent people were falsely accused of being state moles but in the end sanity prevailed when those who knew them well refuted those allegations or those who accused them falsely were uncovered as jealous. This proved that despite the adage that, "there is no smoke without fire" someone could have been wrongly accused. If nobody vouched for that individual or victim, then those isolated cases would be classified as casualties of war which is an ugly consequence of a war situation, but one which I don't condone though.

Soldiers don't always get it right and at times they apply their own discretion which leads to innocent civilians getting killed. But we can hardly say that those who command them are therefore guilty now, can we. Mr Trewhela, please reveal your true intentions with your persistent but false accusations on our esteemed leader?

Musa Xulu is head of media and communications for the ANC in the greater Johannesburg region. The views expressed in this article are made in my personal capacity as such nobody else is accountable for them.

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