One of the more famous descriptions to have emerged in the last thirty years for the former ANC leader and South African president Nelson Mandela came from Frank Miller, a senior Ulster Unionist Party politician in the north-east of Ireland, who dismissed Mandela as a ‘black Provo‘ (in other words a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army or ‘Provos‘). Miller represented a view common amongst the British Unionist minority in Ireland, also shared with their right-wing nationalist contemporaries in Britain, who saw little difference between the African National Congress and Sinn Féin on one hand and the associated guerilla armies of MK and the IRA on the other. All were left-wing, anti-colonial movements inimical to British interests both at home and abroad. Indeed many members of the Unionist minority felt a close affinity with the Boer minority in Apartheid-era South Africa: a centuries-old “settler” community trying to preserve their political, economic and military hegemony over the “natives”.
In Britain the conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher regularly impeded sanctions against the Whites-only regime in South Africa, despite the condemnations of the international community and domestic critics. She regarded the ANC as a ‘…typical terrorist organisation‘ and later explained on a visit to South Africa that her refusal to meet the imprisoned ANC leader was simple enough: ‘…the Prime Minister of England does not talk to terrorists‘. These sentiments were widely echoed throughout her government with Tory Party conferences proposing motions demanding Mandela’s execution while members wore suits with collars, ties and lapel badges emblazoned with the words ‘Hang Nelson Mandela‘ (one of Thatcher’s closest political allies, Sir Teddy Taylor stated that Mandela ‘…should be shot‘, a view Thatcher never disassociated herself from).
Even two decades on, though the current Tory leader and prime minster of Britain David Cameron has admitted that Margaret Thatcher and her then government were wrong in their policies on Apartheid South Africa, there are still those in his party who remain wedded to their old views. So it is probably with some outrage and a reaffirmation of their ancient prejudices that they heard today’s new revelations reported in the Irish Times of just how close the two liberation movements were:
‘THE IRA helped carry out one of the biggest bomb attacks against the South African apartheid government in the early 1980s, according to the memoirs of former senior ANC activist and politician Kader Asmal.
The former ANC cabinet minister and Trinity law professor, who died earlier this year, reveals in his memoirs published this week how volunteers recruited from Ireland carried out reconnaissance on one of the country’s most strategic installations – the Sasol oil refinery in Sasolburg, near Johannesburg, before it was bombed on June 1st, 1980.
The attack was carried out by Umkhonto we Sizwe, better known as MK, the military wing of the ANC, and struck a major blow against the apartheid state at the time.
In his book, Politics in my Blood , Asmal, founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (IAAM), also claims Gerry Adams provided the IRA volunteers to carry out the mission after he contacted go-between Michael O’Riordan, then general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland.
“I went to see the general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, Michael O’Riordan, who was a man of great integrity and whom I trusted to keep a secret. He in turn contacted Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and it was arranged that two military experts would come to Dublin to meet two MK personnel and take them to a safe place for two weeks of intensive training. I believe the expertise the MK cadres obtained was duly imparted to others in the ANC camps in Angola.”
Asmal says he was later approached again by the MK high command who wanted two people to conduct a reconnaissance operation on the feasibility of attacking Sasol, South Africa’s major oil refinery, vital to the maintenance of the apartheid state.
“Once again, I arranged the task with Adams of Sinn Féin, through the mediation of O’Riordan. Though I no longer recall the names of the persons who volunteered, if indeed I ever knew them, they laid the ground for one of the most dramatic operations carried out by MK personnel.”
Recalling the 1980 attack as one the most daring acts of military insurgency in the struggle against apartheid, he writes: “. . . while the damage to the refinery was, according to the apartheid regime, relatively superficial, the propaganda value and its effect on the morale of the liberation movement were inestimable. Yet only Louise (my wife) and I knew the attack on Sasolburg was the result of reconnaissance carried out by members of the IRA.”
He added: “The attack on Sasolburg had nothing to do with the IAAM, and nobody knew about the story behind it except Louise and me.
“When the plant blew up, we were so excited I suppose some of the other IAAM people must have wondered if we had any connection or involvement.”’
Many years later the ANC played a crucial role supporting Sinn Féin in the Peace Process of the 1990s and early 2000s some of which was revealed by the Observer newspaper:
‘One of the last ANC militants to lay down arms after the war against apartheid played a leading role in convincing the IRA to move to its historic compromise over arms decommissioning last weekend, The Observer has learnt.
Sathyandranath ‘Mac’ Maharaj held a secret meeting with IRA leaders, including the hardline Marxist Brian Keenan, in Belfast in February, shortly after the British Government suspended the short-lived power-sharing executive. The one-time Communist ANC activist told Keenan and three other members of the IRA’s Army Council to ‘be creative’ over the arms issue.
According to republican sources, Maharaj’s advice helped propel the organisation towards its unprecedented offer to put arms beyond use and allow independent observers to monitor its weapons dumps. Maharaj was accompanied on the trip by Leon Wessels, a white member of the Cabinet who ran Pretoria’s security apparatus, but the former held the talks with the IRA leadership.
Maharaj is understood to have reported back to his ANC colleague and former trade union leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, that a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland deadlock could be achieved. Ramaphosa has since been appointed as one of the two observers to verify IRA arms dumps are sealed and guns have been put beyond use.
It is suggested Sinn Fein MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness asked the ANC leadership to help them convince IRA sceptics to launch an initiative to break the deadlock.
Maharaj, like Keenan in Ireland, was initially sceptical about the politics of compromise at the end of apartheid. He was number three in the ANC’s military wing and laid down his arms only after Nelson Mandela had convinced him attacks on the security forces would damage reconciliation with the white community.
The IRA looks upon the ANC as ‘brothers’ in the struggle for national liberation and for more than two decades has maintained political links with the South African movement. However, there were never any formal military ties.’
Of course we can now see that there were very formal ties between Umkhonto we Sizwe or MK and the Irish Republican Army or the IRA. In fact the struggle between Irish Republicans and Apartheid-era South Africa went much further, for it involved the Boer-regime directly engaging in state-sponsored terrorism in Ireland through the supply of weapons, explosives and money to British terror factions in the country during the 1980s and ’90s. As the report above continues:
‘In the Eighties it was other South Africans who helped fuel the Ulster conflict. Apartheid agents indirectly armed both the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force 13 years ago, enabling the two loyalist organisations to intensify their violence up until the 1994 ceasefires.
Douglas Berndhart, an American-born agent for Boss, apartheid’s secret intelligence agency, put loyalists in touch with a Lebanese gunrunner, Joe Fawzi, in 1987. The UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance paid Fawzi around £300,000 (stolen in a bank robbery in Portadown) for a large consignment of weapons, including hundreds of AK47s that had fallen into the hands of Lebanese Christian militias. These weapons had been captured from the retreating PLO, which was expelled from south Lebanon in 1982.
Ulster loyalists made two further attempts to gain arms directly from the apartheid regime. The UDA sent Brian Nelson to Johannesburg in the same year to make contact with Ulster expatriates living in South Africa who supported the loyalist cause. The trip came to nothing, probably because Nelson was an agent working inside the UDA.
A more serious bid to procure weapons took place a year later when Ulster Resistance, founded but later disowned by Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, tried to sell surface-to-air missile systems to apartheid agents in Paris. French intelligence arrested three Ulster men, Samuel Quinn, James King and Noel Lyttle, at the Hilton hotel as they were about to make contact with South African diplomat Daniel Storm.
Storm had offered Ulster Resistance weapons in return for stolen missile systems manufactured at Shorts aircraft factory in east Belfast. The apartheid government wanted the missiles to shoot down MiG aircraft flown by Cuban pilots in battles between Angolan Marxist forces and the South African Defence Forces. Ulster Resistance’s botched attempt to buy weapons from the Pretoria regime resulted in France and Britain expelling six South African embassy staff, including Storm, from their Paris and London missions.
The political leaders of the loyalist organisations that smuggled those Lebanese armaments into Northern Ireland have so far refused to follow the IRA’s lead and offer up a similar arms inspection deal. John White, a former UDA prisoner and now chief spokesman for the Ulster Democratic Party, said he would have preferred all paramilitary organisations voluntarily to destroy their arsenals.’
The obituary of the notorious British Intelligence agent Brian Nelson provides even more details on those who connived in facilitating the support of Apartheid South Africa for the militant separatists of the Unionist minority in Ireland, the close involvement of the British military and intelligence services, and the years of terrorism that stemmed from that:
‘Brian Nelson, who has died of a brain haemorrhage aged 55, features in today’s report by the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir John Stevens. In the early 1990s, Stevens, then a relatively lowly deputy chief constable in Cambridgeshire, was asked to conduct an inquiry into the relationship between the British army and Protestant paramilitaries, notably the Ulster Defence Association.
He soon came across Nelson, a fanatical and sectarian Protestant from Belfast’s Shankill Road, who was recruited in 1985 by British military intelligence to act as an army agent in the UDA, which he had joined a decade earlier. Nelson, a former soldier, had served with the Black Watch, and later took a building job in Germany
He performed his delicate and dangerous new task with great enthusiasm. His house and car, plus £200 a week expenses, were paid for by the British army (the British taxpayer). In 1987, soon after his recruitment, Nelson went to South Africa to shop for arms for the UDA and supervised the shipment of two huge batches of arms, at least one of which ended up in the hands of the paramilitaries.
Throughout his time in the UDA, Nelson worked closely with army intelligence, whose policy at the time was shamelessly to take sides: for the Protestant paramilitaries, who were seen as pro-British; and against the IRA, who were seen as the enemy. This policy drew British military intelligence into a gang war. Drawing on his sources in British intelligence, Nelson would pass on the names and addresses of known IRA activists to the UDA, whose gunmen would promptly go out and “execute” thesuspects.
The success of Nelson’s work commended him to the UDA hierarchy, who appointed him “head of intelligence”. But his system did not always work. In May 1988, Terry McDaid, a bricklayer, was at home watching television when masked gunmen smashed into his home and shot him dead. It was a mistake. The gunmen were looking for Terry’s brother Declan, whose name had been supplied by Nelson.
The policy of consistent collusion between British army special forces and Orange assassins was bitterly opposed in the 1970s by Colin Wallace, an army information officer at Lisburn with strong connections to intelligence, and Fred Holroyd, a British military intelligence officer in Northern Ireland. Both men were denounced and sacked.
Wallace was framed, and jailed for killing his best friend. In 1996, 10 years after his release, his conviction was quashed by the court of appeal. When Stevens discovered the role of Nelson in paramilitary sectarian murders, he insisted on Nelson’s prosecution, and he was arrested.
This caused dismay in the British army and its undercover organisation, the Force Research Unit (FRU). Stevens was adamant that he could not condone Nelson’s behaviour, and frantic negotiations followed. For nearly two years, Nelson was held in the relatively comfortable police “supergrass suite” in Belfast.
A deal was finally clinched in January 1992. Nelson agreed to plead guilty to five conspiracies to murder, and at least four sectarian murder charges against him were dropped. In a bizarre court case lasting less than a day, Nelson’s real role was effectively covered up. After a moving tribute to his sterling work for the British army from a then anonymous colonel, Nelson got 10 years.
Speaking from behind a security screen, and brushing aside Nelson’s record as an accomplice to murder, the colonel stressed the lives Nelson had allegedly “saved”. Nelson was released after serving less than half his sentence, and spent the rest of his life under a false identity.
Stevens, however, was reluctant to leave the matter there. Assisted by Hugh Orde, now chief constable in Northern Ireland, he continued his inquiries into the complicity of army intelligence and the FRU with sectarian murder gangs. Nelson was always at the centre of his inquiries.
The Stevens/Orde report is likely to deal in detail with many sectarian murders of the time, including the appalling murder in his home in 1989 of solicitor Pat Finucane. Nelson’s premature death saves him from further embarrassment. The anonymous “Colonel J” has since been identified as Brigadier Gordon Kerr, now military attaché to the British embassy in Beijing.’
Hundreds of Irish men, women and children, citizens of Ireland, lost their lives or were injured as a result of the steady supply of arms from White-minority rule South Africa to the British minority in Ireland, a supply chain overseen by the highest echelons of the British state in what was, and is, Britain’s Iran-Contra Scandal. However, no one in Britain has ever expressed any real interest in examining this campaign of state-sponsored terrorism waged on their behalf. On the contrary some have been implicit in covering it up, as with much else that happened in Britain’s 30 year Dirty War in Ireland.
UPDATE 06.12.2013: For a closer examination of the ties between the British terror factions in Ireland, the British Intelligence services and the apartheid-regime in South Africa please read this article, The 1969 Truthers.
Below is a photo posted today from the Felons Club or the Irish Republican Felons’ Association, a charitable and social organisation for veterans of the Irish Republican Army. It shows the note from Nelson Mandela accepting his honorary membership of the club in the 1990s.
- Gerry Adams supplied IRA terrorists for South African conflict: Times (politics.ie)
- Nelson Mandela: The Making of a Leader (time.com)
- One Step At A Time – The Belfast Agreement And Beyond (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- UVF Organised Attacks On Nationalist Enclave (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- The Labour Party And The Official IRA – They Haven’t Gone Away, You Know (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- Belfast Erupts – Irish Families Besieged By British Unionist Mobs Again (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- New Evidence Victim of 1989 Collusion Murder Was a Provo After All (politics.ie)
- The Irish Republican Army Way – And The Taliban Way (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- The Amazing Contributions of Nelson Mandela (brighthub.com)
That’s a great overview of the history…
Thanks, World. Your article on the CLR is excellent, especially the questions you raise over the grey area where political radicals mix. Workers Party and Sinn Féin enmities aside there has always been a level of cross-over between some left-wing Republicans and Nationalists and more ‘traditional’ socialist or communist parties or organisations in Ireland.
As well as ideological considerations and common stances on many issues, people on the margins tend to gravitate towards each other.
As for the MK / IRA revelations expect more of that to emerge in the future. Just as interesting will be the links to ETA which up to now have been largely journalistic fantasies – all speculation and little substance.
These facts are amazing, proving the old adage that Truth is stranger than Fiction. Did Margaret Thatcher believe that apartheid was a weapon in the cold war against the Soviet Union? Did she also believe that the torturing military dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile was another buttress against the expansion of marxist ideology?
Apologies, Gerald, your Comment slipped me by! The answer to both questions seems to be yes.
Reblogged this on ULSTER SUNWHEEL and commented:
We reproduce this piece from a left wing blog as it is well written and largely factual taking away the obvious pro-republican/left bias.