What Viv McPherson told the TRC about Winnie

Stratcom head says falsifying evidence in criminal investigations was not part of operation's ambit

Transcript of the testimony of the former Security Police officer and Stratcom head, Viv McPherson, to the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings on the Mandela United Football Club, 29 November 2018

MR McPHERSON: I presently hold the rank of senior superintendent in the South African Police Service and I am in office as the head of administrative services for the area of Johannesburg. I have 30 years service in the South African Police Service and have gained extensive experience in the security branch, intelligence unit and covert strategic communications.

In the period 1985 up until after 1988 I was the section head of the Africa Desk. The desk comprised of general intelligence work in Africa. In the period October 1988 up until 1989 I was the section head of the foreign desk specialising in general intelligence abroad.

In the period 1989 up until 1990 I was the head of covert strategic communications known as Stratcom. In the period 1990 up until 1992 I was a staff officer with crime combatting investigations known as CCI. On the 18th of May 1992 I was transferred to a unit known as International Liaison. This unit was especially established to draw South Africa back into Interpol. The unit was successful and South Africa was accepted as a member of Interpol. I was appointed deputy director of Interpol South Africa. Commissioner John Wright was appointed as director.

In 1994 I was appointed deputy district commissioner for Johannesburg North. In 1996 I was appointed as area head of negative discipline. This post comprises the control of discipline in the police force. In 1997 I was appointed in my present post.

I accept that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission requires my testimony regarding the period 1989 up until 1990 when

I acted as head of covert strategic communications known as Stratcom. Now to understand the concept of strategic Communication it is necessary to present the commission with a general definition of strategic communications.

Strategic communications is the planned coordinated execution of a deed and/or the presentation of a message by means of various

communication instruments to -

1. change the attitudes, values and views of individuals and/or a group of persons and/or to create the required attitude and/or to maintain an existing attitude;

2. to neutralise hostile propaganda and/or to utilise hostile propaganda; and     

3. to reach national objectives.

Stratcom can be seen as political warfare as utilised in the Republic of China or psychological warfare as utilised in Europe or civic action as utilised by the Americans or active measures as utilised by the old Soviet Union.

Stratcom was a covert operation and was conducted in secret. Stratcom was part of the national management system which came into operation on the 1st of August 1985. The branch, strategic communication which coordinated all projects on a national basis functioned directly under the State Security Council. Authorisation for a project was obtained by presenting a project per memorandum to the Minister of Law and Order and when authorised the project was registered with the branch for strategic communication, which as I said formed part of the State security council structure. All registered projects were presented on an annual basis to the State President for evaluation and authorisation of secret funds.

Mr Gelberg, a national investigator with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented me with five documents and indicated that I will be required to testify about the contents and my knowledge thereof. When I studied these documents it became clear to me that the documents related to Operation Romulus and Operation Ram.

As to amplify the above operations it is necessary to explain the operational structure of Stratcom, the Department of Law and Order through the security branch of the South African Police acted in the following three areas, the educational field, the labour field and the counter-revolutionary field.

Operation Romulus was approved nationally under the counter-revolutionary field incorporating Operation Ram. The operation was directed against all individuals and groups within South Africa advocating violence or were considered as revolutionaries and persons against peaceful change. The objectives of Operational Romulus were the following:

1 To question the credibility of the ANC;

2. the promotion of disunity between the ANC and the SACP;

3 the promotion of moderation and South Africa's interests in general.

These were the broad objectives of Operation Romulus and Operation Ram.

I will now testify to my knowledge of the documents presented to me and my interpretation will be in general because these actions took place after I had been transferred from Stratcom.

If we then look at Annexure A, I would refer the honourable Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the document with the heading "Operation Romulus. Dissemination of suitable material, re Winnie Mandela abroad - discrediting of the ANC".

This document was signed by the section head on the 20th of June 1991 and I can only interpret the relevance of the contents of this annexure in the light of the objectives of Stratcom. I was not the author of the document.

The objective as amplified in the annexure falls within the scope of the objectives of Stratcom. The subject, Winnie Mandela, was considered as a revolutionary. I say the name now, it is Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, but in the document they still talk of Winnie Mandela. One of the methods utilised by Stratcom was to disseminate information obtained through intelligence to the media which was in fact the case in this instance. I have no knowledge of the details that were disseminated in this instance, in other words I haven't had access to the actual news reports that I can say what the contents were of the articles.

If we then look at Annexure B, the heading is "Top secret Romulus incorporating Operation Ram". This appears like a report-back document from an operator. The document is undated and I was not the author of the annexure and I have no personal knowledge of the contents thereof. The document clearly states that the objectives of Operation Romulus and Operation Ram are almost identical.

The method applied in this document was to prepare certain information gained through intelligence and then to present it to the local and international media. The issues addressed were in line with the objectives of Operation Romulus.

If we then look at Annexure C, sorry for the spelling mistake, it's "Intended media release regarding the ANC's undemocratic policy, ethnic division in the organisation and the existence of and the conditions in the Mbarare detention camp in Uganda".

The annexure dated the 8th of November 1990 pertains to arrangements for the return of two exiles. They were brought back under the auspices of an organisation called "Returned exile coordinating committee", also known as RECOC. I was personally involved in establishing this organisation.

The purpose was to have a media conference to discredit the ANC for their undemocratic policy and to disclose the circumstances in the ANC Uganda camp. This action again fell within the objectives of Operation Romulus.

Then if we look at Annexure D a telex, "Project Romulus, covert ad hoc action to exert pressure on the ANC/SACP". This annexure is unique in that a national action was launched and conducted under Operation Romulus. The instructions were that several aspects had to be addressed, for example an analysis of the latest election of the National Executive Committee and the influence of the SACP, that is the Communist Party, the National Executive Committee, the NEC. I was effective in the placing of an article in the Citizen with the heading "37 Reds elected to top ANC body". See copy of the article annexed to Annexure D marked Annexure D1.

And then the last document is Annexure E, "Commendation for exceptional work no.W87873B W/O P F Erasmus". This document dated the 20th of May 1991 had, after I had been transferred from Stratcom, I am not the author and I have no personal knowledge of the contents at all but this document is a recommendation for excellent service and outstanding performance of Paul Erasmus, who is sitting next to me, who was employed as a Stratcom operator in the Witwatersrand. It was common practice to recommend policemen for outstanding performance and this is a typical example of a letter of recommendation.

I am prepared to amplify the above here at this meeting.

MR CORNELIUS: Mr McPherson, for the clarity of the Chair and the members of the Commission can you generally, shortly explain how Stratcom operated, gathering of intelligence reports and how it was utilised.

MR McPHERSON: Stratcom had to act on intelligence gathered by the security branch. Stratcom in itself formed just another section also within the security branch. Now to obtain intelligence we speak very easily of intelligence but intelligence is actually a process and the process is firstly, the gathering of information and there you have to use different sources, you use human sources who are basically like agents and you also use technical sources, that is the tapping of telephones and post and photography and so forth, and then of course through interrogation you obtain information and then there are many open sources like the newspapers, SABC and other types of documentation that you can lay your hand on.

All this information is sent to head office security branch where the information is collated, it's analysed and we can get confirmation of the information through sources and so forth and only then the final product can then be regarded as intelligence.

This intelligence again is then passed back to the different branches and the regions and is then being received by the Stratcom operators on the ground that then apply or do something with the intelligence that they have received.

MR CORNELIUS: Thank you. Is there anything you wish to add?

MR McPHERSON: No thank you.

MR CORNELIUS: Thank you Mr Chairman.

DR BORAINE: I think this would be an appropriate time to break and have an adjournment for tea. I'd be grateful if you could be back here by twenty past four. Thank you.



DR BORAINE: Thank you very much. Yes.

MR PIGOU: Thank you Chair. Mr McPherson you gave us a definition referring to page 5 of your statement, end of page 4 beginning of page 5, of what Strategic communications, Stratcom was, could you tell the Commission where that definition comes from?

MR McPHERSON: Mr Commissioner the definition was worked out by the branch of Strategic Communications under the structure of the State Security Council and I can tell you it took us weeks to come to this definition because every country has got its own definition and its own matters to address through Stratcom and so this is the end result of communications then you can say between the different departments, defence, foreign affairs, national intelligence and then law and order. All of us that worked on Stratcom we came to this definition.

MR PIGOU: Mr McPherson could you tell us whether you have in your possession any documentation which actually sets out that definition of what Stratcom is and whether if you do have that documentation you would be prepared to make it available to the Truth Commission?

MR McPHERSON: Yes I do have a lecture on Strategic Communications, covert strategic communications and this definition is in this lecture and in fact I have already made it available to Mr Gelberg.

MR PIGOU: Thank you. I want to turn now to Operation Romulus and one of the objectives that you have put down there on page 8 20.2 is the promotion of disunity between the ANC and the SACP. I would then like to refer to your annexure A point 7 where you are referring to Mrs Mandela, or the document is referring to Winnie Mandela abroad, discreditation of the ANC and I quote:

"Of cardinal importance and interest is the fact that all the reports indicate that the information is perceived to have been leaked by elements within the ANC and it is clear that a vast amount of suspicion and conflict has resulted within the ranks of the ANC and most importantly within the executive itself".

Would you agree that the definition that has been provided on page 8 of your submission referring to 20.2, the promotion of disunity between the ANC and the SACP that in fact that should also read Promotion of disunity within the ANC as well?

MR McPHERSON: That is correct Mr Chairperson.

MR PIGOU: Thank you. In terms of the objectives of Operation Romulus that you have mentioned, it seems to have been a very broad operation. According to your knowledge in what way did Mrs Mandela fit inside this operation?

MR McPHERSON: Mr Chairperson to understand it I think, or to put things properly in perspective each department, like the department of law and order we received certain areas as I explained that had to be addressed through Stratcom. Now as I said the three areas were the educational field, the labour field and the counter-revolutionary field. Now we had projects, these basic three major projects registered and it was Project Jackal, that was on the educational field, and then it was Project Omega, that was on the labour field, and then Project Wigwam which was on the counter-revolutionary field.

Now you can look at it is like an umbrella project incorporating different operations then sub-operations. Now Operation Romulus was one of those sub operations under Project Wigwam. In other words in the counter-revolutionary field. Now Operation Romulus was a national operation it was directed at the whole country, not to a specific or at a specific individual, and it is so that Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was one of the what we can say major subjects within the Witwatersrand/Soweto area and therefore she did receive prominent attention through the Stratcom, but then there were hundreds of others over the rest of the country that also received similar attention through Operation Romulus.

MR PIGOU: So it wasn't uncommon though, even though you were dealing with hundreds of potential targets for disinformation that someone as prominent as Mrs Madikizela-Mandela would come under specific attention within Operation Romulus as evidenced by the document that is attached in your annexures?

MR McPHERSON: Yes these examples I think indicate very well that she was a prominent subject with regards to Romulus and she received prominent attention from the Stratcom section in Soweto and the Stratcom section here at the Witwatersrand.

MR PIGOU: In your statement that we obtained from you on the 27th of October of this year you stated that if there was a Stratcom operation directed towards Winnie Mandela I was not involved in that, can you explain that statement?

MR McPHERSON: Mr Chairperson we from head office, and I was the head of Stratcom I was more involved in setting strategies there and coordinating Stratcom operations throughout the country. So I personally did not get actively involved in Stratcom operations against Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, but we had people, as I said, Stratcom section at Soweto and the section here at Witwatersrand that dealt on her matters personally.

MR PIGOU: In your experience Mr McPherson, was there Stratcom involvement in criminal investigations in order to falsify information or evidence to involve people in criminal activities of any nature?

MR McPHERSON: Not as far as I know Chairperson.

MR PIGOU: And based on the same question was there any experience from yourself in terms of Operation Romulus, was it used to intervene in criminal investigations in order to falsify information or evidence to involve Mrs Mandela in criminal activities such as kidnapping or the killing of Stompie Seipei?

MR McPHERSON: Mr Chairperson that would not fall within the ambit of the objects set out by Operation Romulus. I think I can't see any necessity of falsifying criminal information and so forth, because criminal facts must speak for itself.


Source: Official TRC transcript.