The super spy you love to hate

What a thoughtful review of Spy by Robyn Sassen!

My View

spy

YOU WILL BE hard-pressed to pause in Jonathan Ancer’s critical biography of one of apartheid’s most notorious spies, Craig Williamson, once you start reading. From the start, this book presents a fully-fleshed terrifying character who is at once a blend of John le Carré-like intrigues mixed with ethical and deeply South African ponderables. It’s a meaty read, but one that will sweep you off your feet as you hear your pulse roar in your ears and feel your heart bleeding for the family of Williamson’s victims.

Notorious high apartheid spy, Williamson (b. 1949) was always big. He was also always something of a bully, but furthermore something of a wily strategist. Not a stupid man, but one with a fraught understanding of moral and human values, he was perfect grist for the apartheid goverment’s mill. Blend all this with time in the South African Police service, an offer under the…

View original post 590 more words

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A book about the unspeakable, the unthinkable, and the unimaginable

Our latest podcast features The Twinkling of an Eye – a memoir by Sue Brown about her son, a small boy with a giant heart. You can listen to the podcast by searching for Amabookabooak on iTunes (and if you like it subscribe – or, even better, rate us) or on the Daily Maverick’s website (just click here).

I didn’t want to read Sue Brown’s memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye. I avoided it. I picked it up. I read a few pages. I put it down. I picked it up and read two chapters…. I put it down again. I picked it up a few days later. I thought I’d just skim it but it’s impossible to skim. It’s a book that demands to be read. And I’m so glad I did because I got to meet Craig Brown – a remarkable young man, who changed my life.

The Twinkling of an Eye is an act of profound courage. Sue’s life was on course – she had two happy and healthy children, friends, holidays … and then suddenly on the last day of 2010 everything came crashing down. Her family’s life was turned upside down and inside out – the safety of her bubble was replaced with doctors, operations, tumours, brain scans, radiation, fear, trauma, cancer, tears, concerned looks, well-meaning gestures, retching, rushing to hospital, bewildering medical jargon, rising panic…

The Twinkling of an Eye is a book about the unspeakable, the unthinkable, and the unimaginable – the last few months of Craig’s life. Craig died shortly after his 13th birthday. You read The Twinkling of an Eye with a Craig-sized lump in your throat and a knot in the pit of your stomach. The book is about hope and hope dashed, it’s about anguish, despair and fury, but ultimately it’s a tribute to Craig – a.k.a. the Turbinator – a witty, good natured, soccer-crazy, tennis-playing, chatty boy who had remarkable courage, bucket-loads of humour and gigantic dreams. A boy who lived passionately.

Listen to this episode of the AmaBookaBooka authors’ podcast and hear about Sue and her family’s brave journey, then go and read the book, because by reading The Twinkling of an Eye you will get to meet the famous Craig John Brown; a small boy with a giant heart. A boy who is much more important than Italy.

During this week’s Self-Publishing Corner, Dave Henderson discusses some of the biggest mistakes self-publishing authors make. Interested in self-publishing? Visit the MYeBook.co.za website for regular news.  

twinkling

Continue reading

Posted in amabookabooka, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The gift of hope …

IMG_1733

Rachel celebrates her six-month bone marrow transplant anniversary.

 

Six months ago today we were in the isolation ward at Groote Schuur Hospital where we watched as stem cells from an anonymous donor were infused into our eight-year-old daughter, Rachel. We wore scrubs and masks as the doctor and nurse watched the stem cells drip into Rachel’s body.

About half an hour after the procedure started, the doctor took off his mask and gave us a thumbs-up.  “That’s it,” he said.  “It’s over.”

It was remarkably undramatic; even ordinary. Rachel, who had been playing on her iPad, hadn’t even noticed that a life-changing event had taken place.

The 30-minute bone marrow transplant was an injection of hope after two years of hell.

Two years earlier we had discovered that Rachel has a bone marrow failure condition called Pure Red Cell Aplasia – basically her bone marrow wasn’t making red blood cells, which meant oxygen wasn’t being transported around her body. We had become experts on the signs to look out for when her blood levels dropped. She would go so pale she looked translucent, she would lose her appetite, wouldn’t be able to sleep, become listless and lethargic, and her heart would pump so fast. If she didn’t get a transfusion she would be in danger of going into heart failure.

This is a rare disease and we were referred to a team of experts at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, which became our second home. A course of cortisone had proved unsuccessful and the only treatment available was red blood cell transfusions, which she was getting every two weeks. After a year Rachel had become transfusion dependent and her doctors told us she needed to have a bone marrow transplant – and so began a search for a donor. The experts began to crunch the data on the local bone marrow registry. We held our breath – the chances of finding a 10/10 match are one in 100 000 and there are just 70 000 people registered on the South African Bone Marrow Registry. There was one potential donor on this list but after a high-resolution test she mismatched. The search was extended to international bone marrow registries and doctors told us that the list of potential donors looked promising. However, one by one these people fell away. And then after a year’s search when we were just about to give up hope of finding a donor for Rachel – someone registered on the Germany registry. This person turned out to be a 10/10 match.

Rachel was admitted to the transplant unit in March and after a week of chemo therapy to knock out her bone marrow she received the donor’s stem cells. After being in isolation for six weeks Rachel was eventually discharged from Groote Schuur but because she had no immunity she had to be in quarantine at home. We had to worry about infections and Graft Vs Host Disease and rashes and fevers as we waited for her new bone marrow to kick-in. She took a fistful of meds each day, had weekly transfusions and almost daily painful sub-cutaneous injections and her little body was so bruised. She was also re-admitted to the Red Cross Hospital three times (for two weeks at a stretch) to fight infections. Her new bone marrow was just not getting with the programme (or as her doctor put it, it had yet to declare itself). Not only was her bone marrow not making red blood cells it wasn’t making white blood cells or platelets. Our doctors told us to prepare for a second transplant and two weeks ago we had an appointment with the professor at the transplant unit – that’s when it seems that Rachel’s new bone marrow decided to declare itself.

It’s still early days but without putting a commentator’s curse and jinxing her recovery (I’m not superstitious but still…) we think Rachel has taken a small step on the road to recovery. We know we have many more steps to travel but this first small step is a giant leap.

We have met so many amazing people on this journey and so many people – family, friends and people we’ve never met – have been so kind, thoughtful and concerned, bringing us food, helping to look after our other kids when things have got bad, sending love, writing letters to Rachel and giving her presents, and one anonymous donor gave us the gift of hope.

Tomorrow (Friday, 15 September) is Sunflower Day. It would be great if you would consider joining the registry, which you can do by visiting sunflowerfund.org.za

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review of Spy by Breakaway Reviewers

Spy – Uncovering Craig Williamson by Jonathan Ancer

5 stars

South Africa’s infamous “Super Spy”

When Jonathan Ancer was a studying journalism at Rhodes University, he was asked to write an article (to be published) about what he saw as the most momentous day in South African History. He chose 17 August 1982. The day that Ruth First, wife of Joe Slovo, mother of Gillian, Robyn and Shawn, was assassinated by a letter bomb.

He chose to write about Ruth First not because of who she married or her children, but her contribution to the struggle against apartheid. She was known as a brilliant, brave journalist and a political activist who refused to shut up about the National Party government who ruled South Africa at the time. She had fled South Africa and at the time of her assassination was working as the of director of research at the Centre of African Studies (Centro de Estudos Africanos) in Maputo, Mozambique. Craig Williamson’s form of execution was a letter bomb.

Jonathan Ancer was with a fellow journalist driving along the Ruth First Freeway in Durban when he asked his companion what he thought Craig Williamson thought when he drove along this highway, or came across streets and buildings named after her. His companion gave him a blank look and asked, “Who is Craig Williamson?” This reaction convinced him to start investigating Craig Williamson to ensure that this man’s deeds were never forgotten by South Africans. How could this man, educated at a prestigious private boys’ school in Johannesburg, have turned into a psychopathic killer working for the Security Service’s Special Branch? It appears that Williamson was known as an arrogant bully at school and when Ancer interviewed boys who had attended school with him, none showed surprise what career path he’d taken after leaving school. In South Africa during the late 60s, 70s and 80s and early 90s all boys finishing school were forced to enlist in the army. It meant nine months training and a month’s service for the next ten years – or alternatively, you could join the police force and work for four years. This is the what Craig Williamson chose. He was spotted as a potential member of the Special Branch quite soon after joining the police and, once offered the role to be a member of this secret police force, he had absolutely no hesitation in agreeing to work for them. Once his training was over, he was asked to enrol in a degree course at the University of the Witwatersrand to infiltrate the left-wing student movement at Wits.

He very quickly managed to get elected to Wits University’s NUSAS (National Students Union) committee and later the national committee of the organisation. In 1975 while in London on NUSAS business, he met Lars-Gunnar Eriksson, the head of IUEF (International University Exchange Fund). Williamson managed to persuade Eriksson to employ him and it was through this organisation that Williamson met members of the ANC, Pan African Congress’s military members (APLA) and uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) the military wing of the ANC) He used funds from this organisation to help people flee South Africa (obviously making him look like their friend!) However, it was all a ruse. Many of the people he helped flee the country found themselves facing treason charges with Craig Williamson as the main witness for the prosecution. I could write more about this treacherous, psychopathic man who even persuaded his wife Ingrid to spy for him when she worked at the World Health Organisation. However, I’d rather you read the book. Jonathan Ancer has done an excellent job of researching Williamson’s “career”.

Was there ever justice for his victims’ families? NO! He was granted amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He claimed that he was ordered to carry out the killings, torture and spying by his bosses; the Special Branch. Like many liberal South Africans, I was shocked when he was exposed as a spy by the Sunday Times in 1980. Members of my family fought hard to have the yoke of apartheid lifted. Reading this book and discovering that he’d declared himself bankrupt so that he didn’t have to pay damages to Jenny Schoor’s son, Fritz, was to me the lowest of the low. He lives in one of the most prestigious estates in Kyalami, South Africa; is a regular at all the top show-jumping events (his daughter being a show jumper).

His wife Ingrid, who seemed to get off without ever having to appear for being complicit in his spying developed “friendships” with many of his victims. She is still a practicing psychiatrist in Johannesburg. I want to ask one last question: This is for you Craig Williamson: How do you sleep at night? Treebeard Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.

Review by Rony Campbell Breakaway Reviewers http://www.breakawayreviewers.co.uk/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A  review of Spy by Charles Leonard in Die Burger

Die heldeontvangs van ’n ‘superspioen’
Deur Charles Leonard 15 Mei 2017 10:21
Spy: Uncovering Craig Wil­liamson
Jonathan Ancer
JACANA, R260

In 1967 toe Craig Williamson, wat in die 1980’s beroemd of berug (afhangend van jou politiek) geword het as Suid-Afrika se “superspioen”, by die polisie aangesluit het, is niks gevaarliker as ’n pen aan hom uitgereik nie.

In daardie dae kon jy militêre diensplig vir nege maande plus ’n stapel kampe doen of vier jaar polisie toe gaan. Politiekbewuste studente wat nie die land wou verlaat het, het eerder weermag toe gegaan omdat die polisie as apartheid se stormtroepe beskou is.

Drie jaar later het lede van die kragdadige Veiligheidspolisie Wil­liamson uit die bloute vir ’n braai genooi om te gesels. Die onbeholpe, oorgewig Williamson, met sy bevoorregte agtergrond as leerling van die elite-privaatskool St. John’s College in Johannesburg, was ’n vreemde gedierte in die polisie. Maar nie vir kolonel Johann Coetzee nie. Met Williamson se wêreldbeskouing en sy agtergrond het dié hoof van die Veiligheidspolisie onmiddellik sy potensiaal as spioen raakgesien.

Twee dae ná die braai het Coetzee vir Williamson ’n pos in die Veiligheidspolisie se berugte Seksie 4 aangebied om op linkse studente te spioeneer. Agent RS 167 is gebore.

Die joernalis Jonathan Ancer se deeglik nagevorste Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson vertel vernuftig die verhaal van sy dubbele bestaan as spioen en “vriend” van leiers op Engelse kampusse en later in die hoofkantoor van die International University Exchange Fund (IUEF), befondser van anti-apartheid-organisasies, in Genève.

Binne ’n tydperk van amper ’n dekade het die koelbloedige Wil­liamson tallose jong kamerade uitverkoop – baie van hulle is aangehou en gemartel, talle het in die tronk beland en party is dood as gevolg van sy verraad.

“Spioene verraai op minstens twee vlakke,” skryf Ancer. “Die eerste is hul geveinsde lojaliteit aan die saak van die groep wat hulle geïnfiltreer het; in Williamson se geval die Suid-Afrikaanse bevrydingstryd. Die ander een is ’n persoonlike verraad, want ’n spioen lieg en bedrieg mense wat glo dat hy ’n vriend en aan hulle kant is.”

In Januarie 1980 word Williamson se ware identiteit as spioen onthul. Een van sy mede-agente, Arthur McGiven, wat saam met hom op Wits se studenteraad in 1973-’74 gedien het, het uit die land gevlug met ’n tas vol dokumente – van hulle inkriminerend vir Williamson. Dit was nadat die Veiligheidspolisie uitgevind het dat McGiven saam met ’n man woon – iets ergs in apartheid-Suid-Afrika.

Williamson se kaartehuis het begin in duie stort. Eers het McGiven met amper die hele mandjie patats in ’n Britse koerant uitgekom. Nie lank daarna nie het The Guardian in Londen Williamson ontmasker as ’n apartheidspioen. Coetzee het sy man gaan haal – tuis het hy as “superspioen” ’n heldeontvangs gekry.

“Sy vyande vrees en bewonder hom,” het Beeld verkondig. Selfs die Engelse koerante was ewe kruiperig. Die Sunday Times het uitasem berig dat kaptein Williamson James Bond-stories na kinderspeletjies laat lyk het. Onder die vet, swart opskrif “Our man in Moscow” beweer hulle dat hy op die KGB ge­spioeneer het, maar dat hy “nooit bang was nie”.

Sy vyande was minder beïndruk. Die foto van ’n bebaarde Williamson met ’n pelshoed op die Rooi-plein wat die Sunday Times-artikel geïllustreer het, is geneem toe hy die Sowjetunie vir ’n week lank as toeris besoek het. Selfs mede-agente in die Veiligheidspolisie was nie beïndruk deur sy “super”-status nie en het die omvang van sy “prestasies” bevraagteken, skryf Ancer.

Hierna het Williamson vinnig opgang in die Veiligheidspolisie gemaak – in die volgende paar jaar is hy gebruik as die Veiligheidspolisie se hoofondervraer. By verskeie politieke vertoonverhore van wit aktiviste is hy as die staat se kenner oor die ANC voorgehou.

Dis egter sy oorgang van “superspioen” tot briefbommoordenaar wat my gefassineer het. Dis hier waar Ancer se skryfvernuf my veral vasgenael gehad het. In 1991 het ek bevriend geraak met die oud-Matie en ANC-lid Marius Schoon toe hy van ballingskap teruggekeer het.

DIS EGTER SY OORGANG VAN “SUPERSPIOEN” TOT BRIEFBOM-MOORDENAAR WAT MY GEFASSINEER HET.
Gedurende die vryheidstryd het Schoon en sy gesin in Angola gewoon. Hy was in Luanda toe sy vrou, Jenny, en hul sesjarige dogtertjie, Katryn, in hul woonstel in Lubango, Angola, op 28 Junie 1984 aan flarde deur ’n briefbom geskiet is. Hul seuntjie, Fritz (2), was buite die woonstel en fisiek ongedeerd. Hoewel hulle ANC-lede was, het die Schoons in daardie stadium as Engels-onderwysers by die plaaslike universiteit gewerk.

In 1995 maak Williamson uit die bloute ’n skokbekentenis dat sy afdeling van die Veiligheidspolisie verantwoordelik was vir die briefbomme wat die Schoons en Ruth First in Mosambiek se lewens geëis het. Marius loods ’n sivieleskade-eis van R2 miljoen namens Fritz teen Williamson as vergoeding vir skok en sy verlies aan ondersteuning en terapieonkoste. Net voor die geding sou begin, dui Williamson aan dat hy om amnestie by die Waarheids-en-Versoeningskommissie aansoek gaan doen en die geregtelike stappe word toe tydelik gestaak.

Gedurende die amnestieverhoor in 1998 stuur Williamson sy prokureur om Marius vir ’n bier saam met Williamson te nooi. Marius was woedend – dít nadat hy sy vrou en sesjarige dogtertjie vermoor het. Marius het die prokureur aangesê om te “fokof”, vertel sy tweede vrou, Sherry McLean, aan Ancer. Soos Ancer dit beskryf: “Williamson het nie na die WVK gekom om vergifnis te vra nie, maar om te rasionaliseer wat hy gedoen het . . .”

Marius het toe reeds aan longkanker gely. Agt maande ná sy dood op 7 Februarie 1999 het Wil­liamson en sy samesweerders amnestie vir die dood van die Schoons en First ontvang. McLean het aan Ancer gesê: “Marius het nie geleef om te hoor dat Williamson amnestie toegestaan is nie. Dank God.”

Charles Leonard is kunsredakteur by The Conversation Africa.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Business Day BOOK REVIEW: Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson

Digging deep: Jonathan Ancer, right, spent 15 years working on Spy. Picture: SUPPLIED

Digging deep: Jonathan Ancer, right, spent 15 years working on Spy. Picture: SUPPLIED

SPY: UNCOVERING CRAIG WILLIAMSONJonathan AncerJacana Media

Anger, puzzlement and a smattering of suspicion permeated the packed Johannesburg launch of Jonathan Ancer’s book on apartheid spy and killer Craig Williamson.

The greying and mostly male audience queried the journalist extensively on the modus operandi of the portly figure who betrayed their university colleagues and others to the brutal police Special Branch in apartheid SA. Arrest, interrogation and torture often resulted from Williamson’s dirty work.

They wanted to know how the spy managed to infiltrate bodies such as the National Union of South African Students (Nusas) with seeming impunity.

They questioned why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) granted him amnesty and how he can lead a consequence-free life now, often spotted sipping coffee in upmarket shopping malls.

Williamson shows little remorse for his role in the assassinations of Ruth First, Jeannette Schoon and her daughter Katryn, killed by letter bombs he masterminded.

It took Ancer 15 years to produce his deftly written, exhaustively researched book. “I am obsessed by him,” he says.

But Williamson provided no additional information — he sticks to the same story.

The Republic of Gupta book reminds you of maniacal little men who pull you deeper into the dark instead of showing you the way out

“He was a patriot. He was in a war. It’s a soldier’s job to  kill and he was just doing his  job. He’s stuck to his narrative and doesn’t deviate from it,” Ancer says.

After the book was published the author received a message — “a strange one” — from Williamson. “The gist of it was that I was naive, that I didn’t understand how the world of intelligence worked. It wasn’t hostile, but he wasn’t pleased,” says Ancer.

Many a bitter questioner will find some answers in this fascinating, factual and racy read. Ancer has written the book chronologically, beginning with the spy’s schooldays at Johannesburg’s elite St John’s College.

Williamson aroused antagonism among his schoolmates for his bullying ways.

Glenn Moss, a student activist from the 1970s who knew Williamson at Wits University, told Ancer about a St John’s prefect who had boasted he had beaten the “Bunter” Williamson.

“Moss had a horrible picture of prefects flaying the fat boy … he was horrified,” Ancer writes in the book. “You helped create a monster,” Moss yelled at the former prefect.

Ancer, who interviewed as many of Williamson’s acquaintances as he could find, believes that “his St John’s experiences might have made a contribution to the person he became. It was telling to see him through the eyes of his schoolmates.”

After matriculating, Williamson joined the South African Police. “At the time, it had the reputation of being apartheid’s storm troopers. That is why liberals went into the army,” Ancer says.

In 1972, Williamson registered at Wits, joined Nusas, became its vice-president and held its purse strings. It gave him enormous power.

He resigned from the Nusas executive four years later to become a “free-floating permanent political activist … the Security Branch wanted to get him as deep as possible into the International University Exchange Fund,” writes Ancer.

“The Geneva-based fund helped students, providing scholarships as well as assistance for refugees.”

His cover was blown when Bureau of State Security agent Arthur McGiven defected to Britain in 1980 and gave extensive interviews to The Observer newspaper

Williamson provided the Special Branch with information about a range of anti-apartheid organisations and activities in SA and overseas.

In Switzerland, he again employed his organisational powers and took control of the fund’s financial matters.

His cover was blown when Bureau of State Security agent Arthur McGiven defected to Britain in 1980 and gave extensive interviews to The Observer newspaper. Williamson, in the bath in his Swiss home, turned pale when he heard the news.

The defection set in motion a series of events that exposed him as an apartheid secret agent who had been leading a double life for nearly a decade.

He returned to SA as “the spy who came in from the cold”, banner headlines declared upon his arrival.

Then minister of law and order Louis le Grange claimed Williamson had infiltrated the South African Communist Party, the ANC, the Black Consciousness Movement and the Pan Africanist Congress.

The Sunday Times also claimed he had spied on Russia’s KGB. However, a photo of Williamson in front of the Kremlin in Moscow was taken by his wife Ingrid when they were touring there.

In the 1980s, Williamson’s role escalated into a deadly one — he became a killer. He claimed at the TRC that colonel Piet Goosen had instructed him to send a parcel bomb to First in Maputo. He did so. It blew her to pieces.

He sent a bomb to the wife of anti-apartheid activist Marius Schoon in Angola two years later. Jeanette and her daughter Katryn, 6, were killed. The couple’s son, Fritz Schoon — who was three years old at the time — witnessed it.

Ancer’s rendering of their story, part of it gained recently from Fritz, is told sensitively  but nonetheless makes for  grisly reading.

African crime genre author Scotty Elliott is not keen on up-close gore, and it’s her characters that fascinate, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

“Williamson was brought in to interrogate people such as Guy Berger, Duncan Innes and Barbara Hogan and was a state witness at Barbara’s trial,” says Ancer. “She committed no treason, yet received a 10-year prison sentence for treason.”

Part of Ancer’s research involved reading Jacob Dlamini’s powerful book, Askari, in which ANC member Comrade September “turns” against the ANC after he was brutally tortured by Eugene de Kock.

“He turned because it became a matter of survival. But for Williamson, it was a choice — he actively made a decision to become a spy,” Ancer says.

He devotes a chapter to the TRC and Williamson, who was granted amnesty. First’s two daughters and Fritz Schoon launched a judicial review to challenge the amnesty decision. But tired and despondent, they abandoned it after years of protracted legal negotiations.

The spy, described by some as a psychopath, had “outmanoeuvred the legal system to avoid paying an insignificant out-of-court settlement sum to the child [Fritz Schoon] of one of his victims”, writes Ancer.

His last interview for the book was with Williamson at the swish Hyde Park Corner mall in Johannesburg, where he searched for clues to reveal something about the man.

Ancer wanted to look into his eyes to see if there was any remorse when he asked about the murders of First and the Schoons. Williamson’s face turned bright red several times during the two-hour interview, but there was no remorse.

As he left Ancer, he remarked, “Maybe I’ll see you at the book launch.” But it takes courage to pitch at such an event. Williamson didn’t.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leaving Behind A Trail Of Destruction

weekend argus snip

Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson’ is a new book by Jonathan Ancer that delves into apartheid’s heart of darkness, writes MICHAEL MORRIS in the Weekend Argus (Saturday, 25 March 2017)

 

IN THE grainy picture from 1980, 2-year-old Katryn Schoon looks as though she is pretending to be asleep, head back, eyes closed, lips dreamily parted. We know she isn’t; it’s a family picture, with her toddler brother, Fritz, her mother Jeanette and, behind them, a heavily bearded and obviously doting father, Marius. Whether her seeming absence in what appears to be the only public photo of her is the consequence of accident or impish design is hard to tell. The jolt that attends this photo is the certainty of her looming fate. On a June Friday four years after it was taken, 6-year-old Katryn and her mother were killed in their flat in Lubango in southern Angola, about 200km north of the then South West African border, by a parcel bomb despatched from the heartless corridors of apartheid South Africa’s security establishment. It is said, Jonathan Ancer recounts, that “a smear of blood three metres wide from floor to ceiling on one wall… was all that was left of Katryn”. The only one of the four in that 1980 picture still alive today is Fritz, who, at the time of the blast, aged 2-and-a-half, “had probably been just outside the flat”.

In the years since, lingering attention has dwelled on another “survivor” of the bombing, the mastermind, notorious apartheid-era spy, Craig Williamson. We encounter Williamson today – only months ago – in the final chapter of Ancer’s book when the author interviews him at a coffee shop in a luxury mall in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. And, in the final passages, the interview done, we see the former spy “picking up his leather man bag and shuffling off into the glitzy mall, (slipping) unnoticed into the crowd of upmarket shoppers”. It is hard to equate this homely image – along with the descriptions, by friends, of Williamson being “charming”, “convivial” and “jolly” (prompting Ancer’s anxiety that “to be honest, I’m worried I may end up liking him”) – with the outcomes of a life, much of it, devoted to notching up successes for an increasingly murderous apartheid state.

When the two meet at Life Grand Café – Ancer equipped with “a digital recorder, three pens, a notebook and 51 questions” – the consequence of three years of preparation means “I know the Williamson story quite well”. “I’ve dug through archives, scanned newspaper clippings, listened to recordings, read countless books, scoured social media, visited some dark corners of the internet, and interviewed dozens of people who crossed paths (and swords) with him – from a former school boy in his boarding house half a century ago, to an ex-president, four former cabinet ministers, an Academy Award winner and a young man who witnessed his mother and sister being blown to bits. “Unless he confesses to involvement in the murders of Olof Palme and Samora Machel, I’m not expecting new information from him. “I’m here to search for clues that will reveal something about the man himself. “I also want to look in his eyes and see if there’s any remorse when I ask him about the murders of (Ruth) First and the Schoons.”

Ancer was a former Independent Media journalist, and his book reads like a spy thriller. And it is, in the sense of being a comprehensive account of Williamson’s (and others’) deep infiltration of the ranks of 1970s leftwing student activism, and, latterly, of the peripheral operations and funding of the campaign against apartheid internationally, including of the ANC. It involved breathtaking betrayal – Williamson even stayed with the Schoons while they were in Botswana – perpetual cunning, and, doubtless, nerves of steel, too. For all the suspicions that surfaced from time to time, Williamson fooled a lot of people into believing he was genuine, and raked in information and names that cost many their freedom, and some their lives. It all began in May 1968 when Williamson, just out of school, elected to do service in the police rather than be called up into the army. He was adept, and was noticed, and within two years, was drawn into the murky world of the security police, becoming Agent RS 167. He had insinuated himself almost further than is credible into the “enemy” camp, latterly serving in a senior position in the International University Exchange Fund in Geneva until, in March 1980, he blew his own cover, fearing he was about to be unmasked following the defection to Britain of a Bureau of State Security agent, Arthur McGiven.

He earned a measure of celebrity on his hasty return to South Africa as the “spy who came in from the cold” – but his more chilling activities had yet to begin. Twenty years later, in a very different South Africa, Williamson (and bomb-maker Roger Raven) were granted amnesty for three murders – Jeanette and Katryn Schoon’s in 1984, and, two years earlier, Ruth First’s. First, who was married to Joe Slovo, uMkhonto we Sizwe’s chief of staff, was killed by a parcel bomb in her office at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University in August 1982, where she was the research director of the Centre for African Studies. And it was First’s fate that triggered Ancer’s book. An old, fading student essay he’d written about First’s death, and not looked at for 20 years, came to light around about the time details of Williamson’s role emerged.

But it was only in 2010, having flown into Durban for a meeting, that, as he and a colleague turned on to the Ruth First Freeway to the city, Ancer idly remarked that he wondered “what Craig Williamson thinks when he travels on the Ruth First Freeway”. His colleague looked at him blankly: “Who is Craig Williamson?” He felt then that “while it’s important to remember people like First, who were killed in the struggle to bring about democracy, it’s equally important that we don’t allow the killers to slip into oblivion”. Ancer said in an interview this week that while researching the book, people often asked, “Why Williamson?”, some even suggesting his “worst punishment would be to not write about him”. And the funny thing is, he said, was that Williamson himself was the only person who did not ask “Why me?” “He was the only person who seemed to think, ‘Well, it‘s about time!’

“To me, it’s about the importance of remembering, and I have sought in the book to consolidate many stories we don’t know about – some of which go back 50 years – to present a fuller picture of the people involved, what they went through.” And, at the centre of it, is the figure of a man – a “bully” as Ancer sees him – who remains as self-convinced today as he was when he made his own choice a life-and-death matter for others without their having the slightest inkling of what was in store. Ancer said: “If you think about it, killing a little girl is probably the most grave crime you could commit. But for Williamson, his narrative is that ‘we were fighting a war, and I was a foot soldier on one side, following orders, and it was my role to kill’. “So I don’t think he sees that there was anything wrong with what he did. He was a patriot, doing his job. He has no remorse… though it was interesting to note that whenever I asked about First or the Schoons, he’d go red. It was the only sign of emotion he ever showed.”

Williamson’s version was, in essence, accepted by the Truth Commission’s amnesty committee which (as the book sets it out) “found that the killings were committed in the course of the conflicts of the past and that Williamson and his accomplice had acted in the course and scope of their authority. The ruling stated that the Schoons and First were at the time of their deaths still involved in the struggle, and hadn’t bade farewell to politics. Katryn, the committee ruled, was not an intended target but was killed in the crossfire.

“The committee didn’t accept the victims’ argument that Williamson had acted out of personal malice. The judges ruled that there was no evidence that he chose the victims and concluded that he had a political motive, which was to destabilise the liberation movement”. The furthest Williamson has ever gone to express his reaction to hearing that 6-year-old Katryn had been killed, was to say it was “like a bucket of cold water was thrown in my face”.

His victims’ families intended pursuing justice after the TRC, but eventually concluded a financial settlement with Williamson – yet the former spy failed to pay a cent of it, and then pleaded bankruptcy to avoid even this penalty. He became, as the book’s promotional material puts it, “The apartheid agent and killer who got away with it all… ” When, after his interview with Williamson, Ancer watched his subject slipping unnoticed into the crowd, he was “left with a hollow feeling”. “He answered all my questions,” Ancer writes, “but, like a good spy, he gave nothing away.” He said this week: “I set out to try to understand why Williamson did what he did… but perhaps the truth is, it can’t be understood.”

Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson will be launched at The Book Lounge, Roeland Street, on Wednesday 29 March at 5.30pm, where Jonathan Ancer will be in conversation with former student leader Glenn Moss, author of The New Radicals: A Generational Memoir of the 1970s

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment