His victims include Bishop Tutu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Helen Joseph, Frank Chikane and Beyers Naude
By Edward Tsumele, CiTYLIFE/ARTS Editor
There is no way after reading The Confessions of a Stratcom Hit Man, a book by former Stratcom strongman Paul Erasmus that you will not feel that you have just watched a horror movie of a spying project that went horribly wrong.
Maybe one should not even be surprised about how the project was eventually exposed by several other Special Branch men in the new South Africa at a number of commissions, such as the Goldstone Commission of 1993, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Agget and the Timol Inquests in Post Apartheid South Africa, as nothing more than a brutal way of not only smearing names of good men and women in society committed to justice for all.
After all this project of the Special Branch, which commenced officially in 1984, causing havoc in its way, as it not only destroyed just and innocent people’s reputations, but lives as well, was a statutory project of the National Party government to crush resistance to its unjust and undemocratic rule by liberation parties such as the ANC, South African Communist (SACP), Pan Africanist Congress PAC, Azania Liberation Organisations, United Democratic Front, South African Council of Churches and COSATU. Among other organisations.
This is because an evil system such as apartheid, was in the first place unsustainable and bound to fail no matter how fanatical its architects designed and implemented it. You just cannot brutalise a people like that and hope that the country would ever live in peace during such dehumanizing process based on a warped idea of racial superiority and not on any science.
No wonder even some intended beneficiaries of it, some white people not only vehemently opposed it in word, but in deed as well. These white activists opposed to the apartheid idea, therefore alongside leaders deemed to be a threat to the apartheid government, especially became much hated by the political elite of the time as they were regarded as traitors that deserved to be dealt with viciously alongside the blacks.
Erasmus, who rose through the ranks of the Special Branch to the position of Warrant and eventually becoming the Deputy Commander of Stracom, was a ruthless man, whose brutalities in both smearing the good names of activists and generally anyone who posed a danger to the rule of the National Party and If in the eyes of the ruling elite eliminating permanently, was so successful in his job he got the name of Mr Dirty Tricks.
However in the process, he also destroyed his own life and that of his family, particularly his then wife, Linda and their young children Dylan and Candice, resulting in his divorce from his wife and losing custody of Candice, who initially did not want to hear anything about her father and his dirty past in the new South Africa.
However the difference is as early as 1993, as the county was inevitably travelling the certain path of democracy, Erasmus and a few other rogues in the Special Branch who went by the given names of Qs, spilled the beans at the Goldstone Commission. However at the time, besides verbal promises from the Chairperson of the Commission Richard Goldstone, there was no definite legal guarantee that Erasmus and the other rogues participating in the Commission would be spared from prosecution.
That only came later when a new law governing the Truth and Reconciliation, (TRC) process was put in place. Those who told the whole truth about their crimes during apartheid and that confession met the muster of being politically motivated crime, were not to be prosecuted. Erasmus, just like many other criminals including some police and some political elites from the National Party and the liberation movements took advantage of the TRC process. Some got amnesty for the crimes they committed in the name of politics. Erasmus was one of them who became successful in getting amnesty for his trail of destruction, that include 500 incidents of criminality, most of them heinous. In the book, which is a result of his confession to his son, Dylan, for example he reveals that he was given 13 orders to kill an assortment of people, including fellow cops who fell out of favour with his commanders. He however does not reveal whether he eventually followed all the orders to the later.
It is however the damage in smearing people’s names with dirt, destroying their reputations , careers and standing in society as a Stratcom strategist by disinformation, often using the Stratcom formula of mixing 70 percent truth with 30 percent lies to achieve nefarious effect, that is spine chilling in this book.
Among his victims are the late Winnie Madikizela Mandela who was under Special Branch surveillance 24 hour s day and seven days a week, the recently deceased Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, the late Reverend Beyers Naude whom the apartheid political elite suspected was an underground communist just like late activist Braam Fischer, the late feminist activist Helen Joseph and Reverend Frank Chikane who Erasmus confessing in his book that he was part of the planning team of Chikane’s widely publicized infamous poisoning incident, among others.
What is even scarier about the revelations in Confessions of a Stratcom Hit Man are the allegations Erasmus makes that even in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, liberations movements were unbanned and struggle fighters and their leaders were flocking back to the country ready for the negotiations, the Stratcom dirty tricks continued, including fomenting what became known as Black on Black violence by supplying weapons to these warring groups in the township.
In fact even as the then President FW De Klerk assured fellow negotiators such as Mandela that Special Branch was no longer in operation, Stratcom for the first time gave its officers formal training in strategies to neutralize the ANC and render it in the eyes of the public “just another ordinary political party” in 1990. This, Erasmus argues, was planned so that by the time elections took place in 1994, the popularity of the ANC would have been reduced so much that the National Party stood a chance of retaining substantial power by collaborating with other conservative parties such as the IFP.
Another plan was to sponsor a new moderate white party whose language would be coached in the tradition of democracy and social justice that they hoped would be attractive to voters, unlike the National Party. This, Erasmus argues, would be another National Party in disguise, but the money would be secretly channeled from government to resource this party ahead of the elections in 1994. That plan was however abandoned at the last minute.
Reading between the lines in all these allegations, it appears like the shelf life of Stratcom was secretly extended even into the democratic era, especially the early years into democracy.
In fact the book claims that some of the Stratcom men might even have joined the right wing in democratic South Africa.
By the time Erasmus died in 2021, shortly before Confessions of a Stratcom Hit Man was printed, he had personally apologized to some of his surviving victims, including Madikizela-Mandela who had in a strange twist of circumstances, had become a close friend of his till her death. In fact he says that he had seen a weak Madikizela Mandela shortly before she died in 2019.
Confessions of A Stratcom Hi Man, published by Jacana Media in 20212, and which is available in book stores throughout the country, is a book worth reading, not only for those that may have been victims of this arm of the much feared Special Branch and their descendants, but anyone interested in learning more about the apartheid elites ‘sd dirty tricks and they tried to maintain a morally, politically and legally bankrupt system in the face of popular opposition in South Africa.