JOHANNESBURG September 16 1997- SAPA

TRC TOLD OF SPIES PENETRATING JOURNALISM UNDER APARTHEID

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's media hearings on Tuesday produced a varied, often conflicting picture of how deeply apartheid's security forces infiltrated journalism under apartheid.

Retired spy John Horak reported that half the newsrooms of South Africa's newspapers were populated by informers working for the old South African government. He named almost every newspaper in South Africa as having had informers promoting apartheid.

Then former Stratcom (police strategic communications) commander Vic McPherson took the stand and bolstered the view. He reeled off a long list of almost every newspaper and magazine in South Africa as having had people who had promoted apartheid.

He was followed by former spy Craig Kotze, now a director advising National Police Commissioner George Fivaz.

Kotze was unrepentant about his role as an informer, which he felt had bolstered the police and security forces and had enabled South Africa to make a peaceful, negotiated settlement unbedevilled by fanatics on the right and left.

A former crime reporter for The Star, he believed the newspaper in the early 90s had been infested with Black Conciousness adherents and later by African National Congress sympathisers who staged a takeover.

Putting a unique spin to the old liberation motto "no normal sport in an abnormal society", he said he had believed there could be "no normal journalism in an abnormal society".

At the same time, revolutionary forces had created a state of war and were perpetrating gruesome acts of violence and terror. So he decided to work for the police.

He claimed he worked as a bona fide journalist who was not expected to inform on his colleagues or to lie. All he was supposed to do was to get stories which would bolster the image of the police, he said.

He accused his former colleagues of colluding and working for the liberation movement, saying they had to come out and admit their role if true reconciliation was to take place.

Many others who were not active members of the revolutionary forces had discarded the journalism ethic of striving for objectivity and editors and newspaper management had lost control in the newsroom.

The media accordingly were identified by apartheid and liberation forces as a legitimate target and suffered accordingly.

Horak said half the journalism industry was working for the security forces; Kotze said most of them were secretly working for liberation forces; McPherson said every newspaper was tainted.

Yet, when McPherson detailed the budget of Stratcom, the State organisation which co-ordinated spying and other activities, he revealed infiltration of the media during 1989 to 1990 had cost the state R50,000 only.

Instead of the legions of spies described by Kotze and Horak, and even himself, McPherson said the apartheid state in 1989 had only 40 people working for them.

The R50,000 managed to pay all 40 informers, 20 of whom were used without their knowledge. Ten others were McPherson's "friends".

The only serious drain on the R50,000 came from three full-time informers, including Horak, Kotze and former spy Craig Williamson, who were all drawing full pay and were paying for cars funded by the amount.

The remaining informers were four full-time journalists and four others who were paid occasionally.

That made up a small portion of the thousands of journalists working in South Africa at the time, many risking their lives and livelihoods to try and bring the truth to the South African public.


South African Press Association, 1996
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