REVIEW — Incorruptible: The story of the murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani


Incorruptible: The story of the murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani (foreword by Pravin Gordhan). ZAM, Evelyn Groenink, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-6399268-0-3. 363 pages.

Dulcie September was assassinated in Paris on the 29th of March 1988. She was shot five times in the face, not in the back as one particular journalistic meme has it. At the time, the world was more than ready to believe that she was the victim of a death squad of the apartheid regime, precisely the kind of cowardly, racist crew who would happily shoot an unarmed coloured woman in the back.

Evelyn Groenink’s latest book is one more attempt to get closer to the truth which, if her account is correct, is relevant to the present as well as the past. But even back then, in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings, there is more than a seed of doubt about this murder being a straightforward apartheid-era killing of an ANC activist.

Groenink takes up the threads of these doubts and in this engrossing account of her obsessive, 30-year investigation, she shows clearly that in the time leading up to her death, Dulcie September believed she had discovered some exceedingly dangerous information in the murky world of the international arms trade. It goes without saying that arms traders are dangerous people with dulled consciences and the impressive amount of evidence that Groenink amasses points to an unholy collusion in September’s elimination between apartheid South Africa, the French secret services and the ‘merchants of death’. And there are other unsolved murders along the path of this tale which are fascinating in themselves for those who like real life whodunnits.

She is not the first writer to suggest this. Bennie Van Vuuren the author of Apartheid, Guns and Money: a tale of profit, made similar suggestions. ‘A likely scenario is that Dulcie September was killed by a South African assassin with either the participation of the French security services or at least their tacit approval. The arms deals at the time were not only a South Africa Affair. The train of profit-making led to Paris, where it benefited corporations, politicians and spies. If any of this was revealed, it might have endangered the existence of the Armscor office in Paris…’.

Groenink’s investigations eventually led her to believe that the stakes were even higher than conventional weapons and that Pretoria had perfected a miniaturised nuclear warhead which the French coveted in order to update, to US standards, the missiles of their force de frappe (nuclear strike force). Clearly, if such information had been made public, it would have been catastrophic for both Paris and Pretoria.

At the end of this absorbing read one is left with the depressing conviction that although the official versions of events are at best incomplete or at worst false, the chances are that we will never know the full truth. We certainly do not know the name of the killer or killers of Dulcie September and the chances are they are still alive today.

In the case of Chris Hani’s murder, the official version was that he was killed in a conspiracy of the far right in which Clive Derby-Lewis provided the weapon which he sourced from fellow right-winger Piet ‘Skiet’ Rudolph and gave it to the Polish immigrant Janusz Waluś who pulled the trigger. Groenink’s conclusions are that although Waluś was present, he was not alone. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this killing was that Waluś was arrested only ten minutes later thanks to the quick thinking and acting of Hani’s neighbour, Mrs Margareta Harmse, who was supposedly driving past at the crucial moment. Only, according to Groenink’s reconstruction of the crime (and she got hold of the original docket), Mrs Harmse wasn’t driving past at that moment. And when Groenink attempted to interview this crucial witness, she refused to meet with her. Other witnesses mentioned a second car carrying a very large, olive-skinned white man behind that of Waluś. This evidence was airbrushed out by the investigation.

Groenink’s suggestion is that Waluś was set up as a fall-guy so that the far right would take the blame for Hani’s death and the other interested parties – the arms-dealers and their corrupt political friends once again – would get off scot free. In the case of Hani some of those politicians were supposed to be on Hani’s side, but, Groenink suggests, in a time of political transition yesterday’s political ally can quickly become today’s political and financial threat. She writes that, ‘In the case of Chris Hani, former comrades explained to me how he was an obstacle to the USD$ 60 million arms deal that was being negotiated with others in the ANC leadership at the time’.

In the Anton Lubowski case, the same thesis is enunciated, that Lubowski, an incorruptible SWAPO office-bearer would not play ball with shady contracts that were in the offing with the new government of Namibia and he had to be removed and his posthumous reputation besmirched.

All of which of course has earned Groenink the criticisms that she uses circumstantial evidence to construct fantastic conspiracy theories. One does have to admit that most of the evidence is circumstantial and that there is nothing that absolutely ties these murders to the arms dealers, spies, Mafia men and politicians that she mentions (and in some cases, like the sinister Craig Williamson, even manages to interview). But what is striking is that the same caste of unsavoury characters keeps cropping up time and time again around these cases and of particular interest are some very well-connected Frenchmen. In addition to the circumstantial evidence and the reappearance of these gentlemen, there is the fact that a significant number of Groenink’s inside informants share her conviction that the official versions of these killings are well wide of the mark and indeed have been carefully manipulated to be so.

What one hopes is that those heroes of the struggle who knew more than they were letting on at the time, might now come clean. For example she mentions former ANC deputy minister of foreign affairs, Aziz Pahad, as being on record saying that that, ‘Dulcie [September] stumbled on nuclear issues’ ( Obviously, this could be embarrassing for former comrades who were not paying enough attention to the situation, or who were too terrified to put their heads above the parapet or who were even complicit in the deals that were going down. Van Vuuren says that the reason for the continuing silence is that ‘some of the same players implicated in (September’s) murder engaged in cutting deals with the post-apartheid arms deal’. Hence, as Van Vuuren points out, ‘The past and present are inextricably entangled, some argue. But judging from the manner in which she lived her life, Dulcie September would have insisted on the right to truth. Justice for her was not a luxury to be traded as a political good’.

Groenink has an epilogue entitled Nuclear, reminding us of the very recent past when we seemed inexorably headed towards being locked into an expensive twenty-year nuclear bear-hug embrace with Russia. Very few people would believe that this particular deal was corruption-free. Other forms of skulduggery may well have occurred: we still do not know the reason why Zuma’s ‘point’ man for the deal Senti Thobejane suddenly went missing in 2017 and remains out of sight.

So, the past continues to haunt us, Groenink argues and the lesson to be learned here is that in a time of transition, the up and coming leaders are inevitably going to be targeted by those hoping for very big deals in the new regime. The arms deal of 1999 was an illustration of how effective these people are at co-opting and corrupting vulnerable and insecure politicians in transition and how important it is for us to honour the incorruptibles, like September, Lubowski and Hani, for they give us hope that it doesn’t always have to be like this.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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REVIEW — Incorruptible: The story of the murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani