Thursday 30 July 2020

Death Flight: Brief for Modern African and Military Historians

Michael Schmidt, left, interviews the late Sergeant-Major Trevor Floyd, one of the original "Dirty Dozen" founders of the Recces over 1970-1972, co-founder of D40 in 1979, and the unit's longest-serving member until the CCB was disbanded. Photographed on 20 October 2010 © Byron Kennedy

‘They must never return… This was the only answer.’ – Colonel Johan Theron, Delta 40 co-founder

‘Those were extremely sensitive operations that must never go in[to] any book…’ – Colonel Charl Naudé, commander of Project Barnacle, Delta 40’s successor

From veteran defence correspondent and best-selling non-fiction author Michael Schmidt comes the first-ever detailed military doctrinal study of the shrouded origins – reaching back to its roots in the black ops of the famed Selous Scouts – of one of South African Special Forces’ most controversial projects, the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB). Military expert and author Jakkie Cilliers calls the book “Gripping and important… very well researched.”

For the student of modern African and military history, Death Flight: Apartheid’s Secret Doctrine of Disappearance (Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2020) is a unique doctrinal study of the origins, formation, and operations of D40 and its successors, Barnacle and the CCB, the civilian-clothed pseudo-operations unit tasked from April 1979 to July 1990 with the clandestine elimination of enemies targeted by the South African Defence Force (SADF) at the height of its Cold War powers. 

Under the overarching aegis of “total war” doctrine (André Beaufre, Algerian War), Schmidt’s focus is on the evolution of “pseudo-gang” doctrine (Ian Henderson, Mau Mau Uprising), especially within the Selous Scouts and its assigned Special Branch and chemical/biological warfare details during the Rhodesian Bush War, and their marked influence on South Africa’s Special Forces, colloquially known as the Recces. 

Schmidt theorises – in an monograph that will shortly follow the publication of the book – that such small-team pseudo-ops as conducted by the D40/Barnacle/CCB line form the micro-tactical end of the SADF’s military counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine which had at its other end the macro-tactical doctrine of nuclear deterrence.

The book, which is already provoking heated debate among former Recces and Military Intelligence officers, traces the Rhodesian imprint from early collaborations in the field between the two countries’ security forces from 1967 into the creation of D40 in 1979 and of the short-lived 3 and 6 Reconnaissance Commandos in 1980 until this influence was diluted with the expansion of Barnacle into the CCB over April 1987 to January 1988.

The text is based on rare and exclusive face-to-face interviews with veterans of the unit including its adviser Colonel Johan Theron who was Special Forces HQ Senior Staff Officer Counter-intelligence, Recce founding icon and the unit’s longest-serving member Sergeant-Major Trevor Floyd (who died shortly before the book’s release), and Barnacle’s second Officer Commanding, Colonel Charl Naudé. Also described is the shadowy pseudo-ops ecosystem that supported D40/Barnacle (Military Intelligence's Daisy, and Departure), as well as other pseudo-ops units and sub-unit elements that flanked it, run by the Security Branch (C1, better known as “Vlakplaas”), the Recce regiments, South West Africa Police (Koevoet), Eastern Cape Command (the Hammer Unit), and the National Intelligence Service. 

The core of Schmidt’s work is, however, D40/Barnacle/CCB’s most occluded and notorious function, Operation Dual, under which several hundred prisoners-of-war and other detainees were murdered and dumped in the oceans from a light aircraft over 1979-1987. This is the application by the SADF of what he terms the “secret doctrine” of death flights (Guillaume de Fontanges, Malagassy Insurrection) which was earlier practiced in Vietnam, Algeria, and Latin America. Argentine death flight investigator and author Miriam Lewin says the book is “Outstanding… packed with incredible scenes worthy of a spy novel, absolutely breathtaking.”

With interviews ranging from corporals through Recce regimental commanders and up to Deputy Chief of the Army level, plus the detailed reconstruction of pilot’s log-books, court testimony, and numerous other textual sources, the book also examines the varied attempts to deal with the CCB’s legacy into the 2000s and so will be of interest to transitional justice specialists too. Illustrated with organisational diagrams and rare photographs, this is a ground-breaking portrait of the men, mandates, matériel, evolution, and operations of apartheid’s most benighted killing machine.

Death Flight is available now from all quality bookstores in Southern Africa like Exclusive Books, and will be available internationally in both its print and e-book versions from platforms like Amazon from the end of July 2020.


Wednesday 22 July 2020

Death Flight: Apartheid's Secret Doctrine of Disappearance

Death Flight: Apartheid’s Secret Doctrine of Disappearance
 (Tafelberg, Cape Town, South Africa, 2020). My sixth book to be published is now in many stores like Exclusive Books and will be available for sale both in hard-copy and as an e-book from Amazon and other platforms from 30 July.

‘They must never return… This was the only answer.’ – Colonel Johan Theron, Delta 40 co-founder

In the late 1970s, as the apartheid government fought a desperate and dirty battle to stay in power, its security forces devised a chilling new tactic. A shadowy, top-secret unit called Delta 40 was established, tasked with the murder of hundreds of ANC, PAC, and SWAPO members. Victims’ bodies were flung from aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South West Africa. Death Flight provides the first detailed account of these sinister missions. Seasoned investigative journalist Michael Schmidt traces the journey of Neil Kriel, Delta 40’s first commander, from his boyhood in Rhodesia to his dark deeds as an apartheid operative in the 1980s. Schmidt also tracks down Kriel’s partner, Colonel Johan Theron, as well as several other veteran Special Forces operators. Based on the detailed analysis of flight logs, court records, military studies, and numerous interviews, Death Flight sheds shocking new light on one of apartheid’s darkest chapters.

‘Those were extremely sensitive operations that must never go in[to] any book…’ – Colonel Charl Naudé, commander of Project Barnacle, Delta 40’s successor

"This book will make your stomach turn. Do not avert your eyes… Death Flight shines a much-needed light on some of the darkest corners of a regime waging a desperate and dirty fight against the inevitable. It is the first detailed exploration of the horrendous practice of flinging murdered prisoners into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. By following the thread of apartheid’s violence into Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Angola, Swaziland, and Zambia, Death Flight elucidates the transnational nature of this crime against humanity. In so doing, it raises fascinating questions about the role of international law in the attainment of hitherto evasive justice… Death Flight is a daring mission to salvage the ghosts of those who were thought to have been eternally dissolved, by apartheid Special Forces, deep in the oceanic waters off our shores. It is destined to become an invaluable tool, connecting the dots in the quest to ensure that no victim of the deadly hand of apartheid is left unaccounted for." – Nkosinathi Biko, son of the murdered Steve Biko, and board member of the Steve Biko Foundation

"… full of information but also packed with incredible scenes, worthy of a spy novel… absolutely breathtaking. The similarity of illegal repression groups’ practices, organised from the state, between South Africa and Argentina has yet to be analysed. The fact that Rubén Chamorro, the director of the School of Navy Mechanics, site of the main clandestine detention centre, where 4,000 were assassinated in death flights, was appointed Navy Attaché in the Argentine Embassy in Pretoria back in 1979 cannot be a coincidence. At that time, across the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of anti-apartheid activists were being eliminated using exactly the same method… The lesson seems to be that no peace can be achieved without justice, and no justice can be achieved with oblivion." – Miriam Lewin, Argentine journalist, survivor of two illegal detention centers, and author of two books on the Argentine death flights, Skyvan and Final Destination

"Gripping and important… very well researched." – Jakkie Cilliers, military expert and author 

"An intriguing read that lays bare the inhumanity of Apartheid crimes. It does so despite the best efforts of the criminals to hide their crimes. May we never forget the lives lost in the struggle for our freedom." – Lukhanyo Calata, son of the murdered Fort Calata, journalist and co-author of the book My Father Died for This. 

“The work he has done before Death Flight speaks for itself, but with this book he has gone further, challenged not only himself but all of us in his quest for truth and in revealing injustice. What I appreciate about Michael’s work is that it is brave and uncompromising. He has been talking to me about his research and everything he uncovered while writing this book. I have been struck not only by his commitment to telling a part of history that most of us might find too uncomfortable to know, but also by how much of his heart has gone into this book. I hope everyone gets a chance to read Death Flight because we cannot afford not to know the details of this part of our history.  We cannot afford to look away from the lives we lost, but most importantly, we cannot afford to go on thinking that history can only be seen as black and white.”  – Kagiso Lesego Molope, South African novelist 


Foreword by Nkosinathi Biko

Prologue Disappeared men tell no tales 

PART I: The Rhodesian roots of SA’s dirty war 

1. A youth in the shadow of an insurgent war
2. From Pretoria bar to Rhodesian bush
3. Behold a pale horse: Rhodesia’s biochemical warfare
4. Horrors and honours
5. Neo-Nazis and mercenaries enter the fray
6. ‘The doctored bodies are in the back’

PART II: A secret killing machine takes shape 

7. Black-ops boon for South Africa
8. Recruiting a few hard men
9. Rhodesia’s revenge
10. Mobilising against the ‘Total Onslaught’ 
11. The ‘hunter-killers’ of Koevoet 
12. SA’s small-team recce pioneer 
13. ‘Ex-Rhodesians became cannon fodder’ 
14. Delta 40 embraces the ‘Dark Side’
15. The first death flight
16. ‘I never counted the bodies’
17. A death flight victim fights back
18. An old Recce gets blooded

PART III: The shackles come off: From Delta 40 to Barnacle

19. Mandate to kill
20. A war crime at Lanseria
21. Two hammers: Barnacle kills its own
22. The founding chief’s last flights
23. Barnacle in its prime
24. ‘Like a James Bond movie’
25. A changing of the guard
26. Barnacle’s role in the Maseru Raid
27. Small-teams success
28. Trained, betrayed, murdered
29. The Wonder Air death flight
30. A death flight over the Indian Ocean
31. Barnacle’s final small-teams mission

PART IV: Dramatic expansion under the CCB 

32. ‘The Organisation’ takes shape
33. Parallel pseudo-ops teams
34. The elimination of Victor de Fonseca 
35. The CCB’s Inner Circle
36. The Cessna Caravan death flight
37. Resistance by Speskop’s new Air Ops chief
38. The End of Operation Dual

PART V: Aftermath: Our Pact of Forgetting

39. The end of the Border War
40. The CCB shuts down
41. Shadow-boxing: The Trial of the Generals
42. Half-truths at the Truth Commission
43. Dual exposed: the Wouter Basson trial
44. (Re)disappearing the disappeared
45. Quietus: the founding chief’s exit


Saturday 11 July 2020

This Nothingness

This Nothingness
© Michael Schmidt, 2020

now this is something, this nothingness
if i suddenly stop, the afterecho of 
the wet suck of my boots is all there is
even the rasp of my breath wisps away
there's the ruin of a chinese lantern
some sort of unseen bird in the hedgerow
and the far cadence of a siren
like the tutored grief of a professional mourner
in twilit eighteenth-dynasty egypt
the sky a bruised smear, a beaten dancer
the television tower off-channel like alexanderplatz
the cycads silent detonations of rust
the buildings cavernous, unwelcoming
no-one lives here anymore
smirks the marlin
the fishermen have all drowned in their nets
they dream like garcía lorca
the bullet humming in his brain like a bee
of vines entangling our skyscrapers
of anacondas loving our dreams to death
were we beautiful in transit
were we something to behold
an ectoplasmic comet
barely there, and then gone?


Wednesday 3 June 2020

The Death in Illegal Custody of Shady Habash

22 May 2020

To His Excellency Omar Marwan, Egyptian Minister of Justice:

We, the undersigned, call for an open and transparent investigation into the jailing and death of Shady Habash, a 24-year-old filmmaker who died in custody earlier this month. Furthermore, we call on you to immediately release all artists and writers in pre-trial detention for merely exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Habash died while being held in the maximum-security Tora Prison on May 2, 2020. Arrested in March 2018, he had been in pre-trial detention for 793 days, despite the fact that Egyptian law only allows a maximum of two years’ pre-trial detention. Such detention is meant to be an exceptional measure of last resort to hold suspected criminals that authorities believe pose an imminent threat if released. All Habash did was direct a music video. His case never went to trial, nor was he charged with a crime.

The public prosecutor issued a statement on May 5 claiming that Habash died from drinking sanitizing alcohol, thinking it was water, and a state autopsy report on May 11 allegedly confirmed the cause of death as alcohol poisoning. Such reports have several apparent inconsistencies, including whether Habash knew he was drinking alcohol and when—or if—doctors decided to transfer him to an external hospital. Even if the reports are taken at face value, Tora Prison officials were apparently medically negligent in their lack of response. Habash’s fellow inmates reportedly yelled and made noise from their cell for hours while Habash was dying, to no avail. Habash’s family deserves the truth about the circumstances surrounding his death––and why he was illegally detained in the first place––which can only be achieved through a thorough and proper investigation.

Habash was one of eight people who were detained in March 2018 for their reported involvement in exiled musician Ramy Essam’s song, “Balaha,” which criticized the Egyptian government and was released in February 2018 on YouTube. However, Habash played no role in developing the song’s content and only directed the accompanying music video. We remain seriously concerned about the continued pre-trial detention of Mustafa Gamal, who merely verified Ramy Essam’s Facebook page, and Galal El-Behairy, who penned the lyrics to “Balaha” and remains behind bars, serving a three-year sentence.

It is our contention that these arrests were a grave infringement of freedom of expression, contrary to both international and Egyptian law. But these are not the only cases that––we fear––represent deepening repression of free expression and artistic freedom in Egypt. In recent years, we have seen a disturbing trend in the number of artists, journalists, and writers held in pre-trial detention in Egypt for expressing their views, including:

* Alaa Abdel Fattah, a 38-year-old blogger and activist detained in September 2019––after a number of past arrests––who remains in pre-trial detention today without charge. He is currently on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, raising serious concerns about his well-being (UPDATE: Fattah recently suspended his 36-day hunger strike).

* Solafa Magdy, a 33-year-old freelance reporter arrested in November 2019 who remains in pre-trial detention today without charge, alongside her husband, journalist Hossam el-Sayyad.

* Shady Abouzeid, a 27-year-old satirist, video blogger, and former television personality, who is currently in pre-trial detention without charge.
While we also understand that your office is taking strides to ensure public health in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic does not justify the suspension of fair trial guarantees––as both the World Health Organization and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have affirmed. In fact, there is a profound public health argument toward releasing pre-trial detainees simply to lower the rate of coronavirus transmission in prison.

Habash’s case has sent a heartbreakingly clear message to artists and writers throughout Egypt: Independent expression may lead to years-long illegal detention, and even death, in custody.

Your Excellency, we strongly urge you to release all artists and writers currently held in pre-trial detention for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression, especially in light of COVID-19, which now ravages prisons around the world. Likewise, we demand a proper investigation into Shady Habash’s death and illegal detention. If he had been set free, he would still be with us today.


Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)*
Aid A – Aid for Artist in Exile
Arterial Network*
Artistic Freedom Initiative (AFI)
Artist Protection Fund
Artists at Risk (AR)
Art Moves Africa
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Avant-Garde Lawyers (AGL)
Belady U.S.: An Island for Humanity
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Danish PEN
Danish Film Directors
Der Bundesverband Regie (BVR)
Directors Guild of Flanders | Unie van Regisseurs
Directors Guild of Norway
Documentarist ıstanbul Documentary Days
Dutch Directors Guild
English PEN
European Film Academy
European Music Council
Festival international Signes de Nuit
Hamburger Stiftung für politisch Verfolgte | Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted Persons
Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART)*
Humanists International
Human Rights Film Network (HRFN)
Index on Censorship
International Arts Rights Advisors (IARA)
International Documentary Association (IDA)
International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA)
International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH)
International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)
International Theatre Institute: Action committee for Artists Right
Ithaca City of Asylum
MENA Rights Group
Movies that Matter
National Association of Film Authors (ANAC)
Nhimbe Trust
On the Move (OTM)
PEN America*
PEN Georgia
PEN Lebanon
PEN International
PEN Nigeria
PEN Uganda*
Res Artis
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Safe Havens – the Malmö Meetings*
Société des Réalisateurs de Films (SRF)
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)*
Sundance Institute
Swedish PEN
Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
The Federation of European Film Directors (FERA)
The Federation of European Screenwriters (FSE)
The Museum of Movements*
Volksbühne Basel
Which Human Rights? Film Festival

* Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network member

Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network

HART Launches New Rapid Response Network to Support African Creatives

Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network will support artists and creative professionals who face threats to artistic expression

1 May 2020

Johannesburg – Today, in collaboration with nine partner organisations working in or on Africa, the Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART) co-launches Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network. The initiative aims to help defend artistic freedom of expression in the region and ensure that creatives at risk can live and work without fear of reprisal. Through enhanced collaboration between member organisations, the network will provide rapid responses to creatives at risk in Africa, coordinate adequate support when artists and cultural professionals on the continent face danger because of their work, and support regional safe havens.

“Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network is a vital project that will ensure that creatives under threat in Africa receive assistance, but will also work to prevent those threats in the future,” said Valsero, a Cameroonian rapper who spent almost nine months in detention under false charges in 2019. “As the director of an organisation that supports artists in Africa, I know we can turn to the network whenever we need further assistance or have gaps in the services we can provide. It gives me hope that no artist will go without help. Now is the time for organisations in Africa to work collaboratively and build solidarity across borders in order to provide a safety net for artists of all disciplines. The network is a vital step toward that cross-country unity in the protection of creative freedom in Africa.”

Though many organisations operate nationally, regionally, and internationally with mandates focused on artistic freedom and protecting creatives at risk in Africa, a lack of clear communication among those organisations often causes assistance work to be duplicated and precludes artists from receiving adequate support in time. 

The network brings together organisations from across Africa and the globe, helping to streamline communication, share expertise and insights, pool resources, monitor threats to artistic freedom and creative professionals, and coordinate more effective responses when assisting creatives at risk. This will be achieved through the creation of a streamlined communication mechanism that will allow like-minded member organisations to work in concert and more easily coordinate joint efforts when assisting artists at risk. 

The current organisational members of the Amani* network are: 

Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)
Arterial Network
Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America
Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART)
The Museum of Movements
PEN Uganda
Safe Havens – the Malmö Meetings
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

Michael Schmidt, HART’s Fellowship Co-ordinator, declared: “Artists and cultural and creative workers of all disciplines are often the leading lights of their respective cultures’ attempts to navigate an increasingly complex and challenging world. Across Africa, these are the people who most often challenge repressive regimes and bigoted societies, presenting visions of more harmonious possibilities – and finding themselves in danger as a result. Founded by organisations attending the 6th annual Safe Havens gathering of the global arts rights justice sector, held in Cape Town last year, Amani aims to improve Africa’s continental networks in the sector and sharpen the ability of its protective mechanisms to respond to and assist creatives at risk.”

“Amani comes at a crucial moment for artistic freedom around the globe and in Africa,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection, a project of PEN America. “As authoritarian regimes in Africa crackdown on dissent, artists and creatives are bearing the brunt of the pressure, finding themselves at risk of threats, harassment, arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death because of their creative work. Through the network, creatives at risk and the organisations that support them will not be alone. By contacting the network, artists and creative professionals can connect not with one but with numerous organisations across the continent and globe who can work together to more effectively ensure they get the support they need.”

Creative professionals at risk can fill out a secure form here, which is available in English and French. They can also contact the network via email at They will be asked to provide information about your circumstances, which will be treated in confidence and shared only through end-to-end encrypted platforms. ARC will then facilitate the activation of the network in order to provide the best response based on your needs.

* “Amani” means “peace” in Kiswahili, “strength” in Lhukonzo, and “hope” in Arabic.


En français: 

HART lance un nouveau réseau de réponse rapide pour soutenir les artistes africains

Amani: Le réseau africain de défense créative soutiendra les artistes et les professionnels de la création confrontés à des menaces pour leur expression artistique.

1 Mai 2020

Johannesburg – Aujourd'hui, en collaboration avec neuf organisations partenaires travaillant sur l'Afrique ou en Afrique, le Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART) lance Amani : Le réseau africain de défense créative. Cette initiative vise à aider à défendre la liberté d'expression artistique sur le continent et à garantir que les créateurs en danger puissent vivre et travailler sans crainte de représailles. Grâce à une collaboration renforcée entre les organisations membres, le réseau apportera des réponses rapides aux créatifs en danger en Afrique, coordonnera un soutien adéquat lorsque des artistes et des professionnels de la culture africains sont menacés en raison de leur activité artistique, et de soutenir les espaces de refuge régionaux.

"Amani : Le réseau africain de défense créative est un projet essentiel qui permettra d'assurer que les créateurs menacés en Afrique reçoivent l’aide dont ils ont besoin, mais qui s'efforcera également d’anticiper de futures violations", a déclaré Valsero, un rappeur camerounais qui a passé près de neuf mois en détention sous de fausses accusations en 2019. "En tant que directeur d'une organisation qui soutient les artistes en Afrique, je sais que nous pouvons nous nous tourner vers ce réseau à chaque fois que nous aurons besoin d’assistance supplémentaire ou que nous ne serons pas en mesure d'offrir ces services nous mêmes. Cela me donne l'espoir qu'aucun artiste ne sera ignoré. Le temps est venu pour les organisations en Afrique de travailler ensemble et de construire une solidarité au-delà des frontières afin d'offrir un système de protection aux artistes de toutes les disciplines. Le réseau est une étape essentielle vers cette unité entre pays dans la sauvegarde de la liberté de création artistique en Afrique".

Bien que de nombreuses organisations opèrent aux niveaux national, régional et international avec des mandats centrés sur la liberté artistique et la protection des créateurs en danger en Afrique, un manque de communication claire entre ces organisations entraîne souvent une duplication du travail d'assistance et empêche les artistes de recevoir à temps un soutien approprié.

Le réseau rassemble des organisations d'Afrique et du monde entier, ce qui permet de mieux coordonner la communication, de partager les compétences et les connaissances, de mettre en commun les ressources, de surveiller les menaces qui pèsent sur la liberté artistique et les professionnels de la création, et de répondre plus efficacement aux besoins des créateurs en danger. Pour ce faire, un mécanisme de communication simplifié sera créé, qui permettra aux organisations membres partageant les mêmes idées de travailler de concert et de coordonner plus facilement leurs efforts communs lorsqu'elles viennent en aide à des artistes en danger.

Les organisations membres du réseau Amani sont:

      ●           Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)
●  Alert-Artist-Afrik
●  Arterial Network
●  Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America
●  Freemuse
●  Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART)
●  The Museum of Movements
●  PEN Uganda
●  Safe Havens – the Malmö Meetings

Michael Schmidt, coordinateur des bourses HART a déclaré : "Les artistes et créateurs de toutes les disciplines ainsi que les professionnels de la culture sont souvent les figures de proue de leurs cultures respectives pour naviguer dans un monde de plus en plus complexe et stimulant. Dans toute l'Afrique, ce sont eux qui défient le plus souvent les régimes répressifs et les sociétés sectaires, présentant des visions de possibilités plus harmonieuses - et qui se trouvent de ce fait en danger. Fondée par des organisations lors de la 6ème réunion annuelle des Safe Havens sur les droits artistiques dans le monde, qui s'est tenue au Cap l'année dernière, Amani vise à améliorer les réseaux continentaux africains dans le secteur et à renforcer la capacité de ses mécanismes à répondre et à aider les créateurs en danger."

"Amani arrive à un moment déterminant pour la liberté artistique dans le monde entier et en Afrique", a déclaré Julie Trébault, directrice d’Artists at Risk Connection, un projet de PEN America. "Alors que les régimes autoritaires en Afrique répriment la dissidence, les artistes et les créateurs sont victimes d'une forte pression, se trouvant harcelés et risquant les menaces, le l'arrestation, l'emprisonnement, la torture et même la mort a cause de leur travail artistique. Grâce à ce réseau, les créateurs en danger et les organisations qui les soutiennent ne seront pas seuls. En contactant le réseau, les artistes et les professionnels de la création se connectent non pas avec une mais avec de nombreuses organisations sur le continent et dans le monde entier. Celles-ci pourront ainsi travailler de concert pour leur offrir le soutien dont ils ont besoin de manière plus efficace”.

Les professionnels en danger peuvent remplir ici un formulaire sécurisé, disponible en anglais et en français. Ils peuvent également contacter le réseau par courrier électronique à l'adresse Il leur sera demandé de fournir des informations sur les circonstances, qui seront traitées de manière confidentielle et communiquées uniquement par le biais de plateformes cryptées. L'ARC facilitera ensuite l'activation du réseau afin de fournir la meilleure réponse en fonction de leurs besoins.


Sunday 8 March 2020

The Scarlet Thread

"Where is the string that Theseus laid?
Find me out this labyrinth place."
- Bauhaus, In the Flat Field, 1980

In mythology, The Scarlet Thread refers primarily to the ball of red twine given to Theseus, the Athenian hero, by the Cretan princess Ariadne to enable him to find his way back out of the Labyrinth after fighting and killing the carnivorous Minotaur who devours both men and women. 

What is occluded is that the tale is a portmanteau: on the surface, a heroine helps a hero defeat a monster and escape from a place of disconcerting shadow and dire threat; but the deep maze of the Labyrinth itself provides the necessary disorienting full immersion in the “little death” of initiation.

As an ancient initiatory tomb, with which the mystery schools of the Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Hindus, Mayans, Moche and Incas approximated death, the Labyrinth was also an initiatory womb out of which the seeker was resurrected, mastering their primordial self by reaffirming their ties to it.

This vermilion binding to the past also anticipates the future; so the Hindus wear the red Lakshmi string on their wrists to symbolise their connection to divine providence, while for the Chinese, a red thread around the ankles symbolises people who are destined to meet at a significant future juncture.

The Scarlet Thread is not a means of escaping one’s fears, but a bloodline maintaining one’s umbilical link to the netherworld, as in Pan's Labyrinth where the red ribbon of blood running from Ofelia's nose as she lies dead – in alternate reality enthroned – connects her to the navel of the Underworld that she entered by initiatory contests, and won by sacrifice.

So, this multidisciplinary online project, The Scarlet Thread, is a creative near-future conjuncture of significant talents between women and men mastering their antediluvian selves and guiding them through the maze of life, while maintaining their illuminated bonds with the “Western Lands” of a death that is ever-present within us.


Wednesday 5 February 2020

Selby Semela und die Generation des Aufstands

Michael Schmidt
Die Klasse von 1976
Selby Semela und die Generation des Aufstands
Holger Marcks & Matthias Seiffert (Hg.): Die groRen Streiks, UNRAST-Verlag, Münster, Deutschland, 2008

Selby Semela, 1958 in eine große »schwarze« Arbeiterfamilie geboren, spielte eine führende Rolle bei dem Aufstand, der am 16 Juni 1976 in Soweto ausbrach 
Innerhalb eines Jahres wurde er vom Apartheid-Staat ins Exil gezwungen Niedergelassen
in den USA, stand er in Verbindung mit der ExilbewegUng und der radikalen Szene
in Amerika. In dieser Zeit wurde er vom Situationismus beeinflusst. Er kehrte nie
wieder nach Südafrika zurück.
1976 war Semela 18 Jahre alt Er war aktiv im African Student Movement (ASM),
einem Zusammenschluss, der zu der Bewegung des Black Consciousness (BC) gehörte
und der Schüler in den Schulen Sowetos organisierte Das ASM versuchte später seinen
Wirkungskreis auf andere Townships auszudehnen und änderte seinen Namen
in South African Student Movement (SASM). Als die Unzufriedenheit 1976 anwuchs,
spielte das SASM eine Schlüsselrolle bei der Mobilisierung von Schülern. Semela selbst
wurde zum Kassenwart des »Aktionskomitees« gewählt, das von Oberstufenschülern
gegründet wurde, um die Massendemonstrationen an jenem schicksalhaften 16. Juni
zu organisieren. An diesem Tag kam es zum Zusammenprall zwischen Schülern und
der Polizei in Soweto. Bis zum Mittag waren die Townships von Krawallen überzogen
und die Proteste breiteten sich schnell über das Land aus, sich zu einer Reihe von
Generalstreiks und Erhebungen in deh Städten auswachsend. Es sollte mehr als ein
Jahr dauern, bis der Aufstand niedergeschlagen werden konnte.
Semela war unter den Hunderten, womöglich Tausenden von Aktivisten, die während
dieses heißen Jahres ins Exil flohen. Wie andere Aktivisten Sowetos war er ein
Ziel von Polizeiaktionen, und tatsächlich wurde er auch von eihem »schwarzen«
Polizisten angeschossen und verwundet. Er lebte zunächst im Untergrund, floh dann
nach Botswana und schließlich nach Großbritannien, von wo aus er in die USA kam.
Ein Foto, das 1977 in London gemacht wurde, zeigt ihn mit seinem Freund Teboho
»Tsietsi« Mashinini, seinem Weggefahrten und Vorsitzender des Aktionskomitees,
der eine zentrale Rolle während des Aufstands spielte. Ihre jugendlichen Gesichter
sind erfüllt von Hoffnung, im Schulterschluss strecken sie ihre Fäuste in die Luft
Mit 19 Jahren war Mashinini eine Art Dandy, der von Mädchen wegen seiner abgefahrenen
Schlaghosen und seines Afros begehrt wurde, aber auch ein ernsthafter Militanter, 
der sich seine Sporen in Straßenkämpfen gegen lokale Gangster und als Redner im Debam'erclub der Schule verdiente.
Doch das Band ihrer Freundschaft sollte nur kurz währen. Wie in anderen Gemeinden
politisch Emigrierter rieben sich die Exilanten der »Klasse von 1976« in heftigen Debatten und Auseinandersetzungen auf. Viele Exilanten traten schließlich den älteren nationalistischen Gruppen bei, insbesondere dem African National Congress
(ANC), der in Südafrika verboten war. Andere versuchten, die BC-Bewegung
zu reformieren, indem sie 1979 eine BC-Exilorganisation gründeten mit den Zentren
in Großbritannien und Nigeria.
Semela jedoch zog andere Konsequenzen. Aus den Eifahrungen von 1976 entwickelte
er zunehmend Kritik an der BC-Tradition. 1979 lebte er in der Radikalenhochburg 
Berkeley (Kalifornien) und wurde vom Situahonismus inspiriert. In einem Text
kritisierte er dann die autoritaren Elemente der Kampfe von 1976-1977. Die Revolte
zeigte seines Erachtens die Wichtigkeit von Selbstorganisahon - und dennoch wurde
das Aktionskomitee im August 1976 in den Soweto Students' Representative
Council (SSRC) umgewandelt, dem das Konzept einer »selbsternannten Exekutive
zugrunde lag, die diktatorisch kontrolliert wurde von dessen Vorsitzenden«, zu
jenem Zeitpunkt Murphy Morobe, der später ein ANC-Führer werden sollte. Die
exilierte BC-Bewegung habe diese Lektion nicht gelernt. Der Aufstand machte die
Kraft der Spontaneität der Arbeiterklasse und des Massenkampfes deutlich, doch
die selbsternanntep BC-Führer wendeten sich dem leninistischen Autoritarismus
zu und »erhobeh laut Anspruch auf die zweifelhafte Ehre einer Avantgarde-Partei«.
Das ganze Projekt degenerierte zu »isolierten Gruppen radikaler Cheerleaders«,
hungrig nach Medienberühmtheit und Auslandsanlagen und besessen von Macht.
Zweifelsohne hatte er bereits solche Tendenzen bei seinem einstweiligen Genossen
Mashinini feststellen müssen.
Das Pamphlet wurde in weiten Kreisen der Exil- und Antiapartheidbewegung gelesen
-weltweit. Doch es wurde gemieden von den Verfechtern sowohl des ANC als
auch der BC-Exilorganisation und hatte keine Wirkung in Südafrika. Ab Ende 1970er
Jahre befand sich die BC-Tradihon in einem steilen Abstieg. Der ANC, der nur eine
Randerscheinung in den 1970er Jahren war, wurde neu aufgebaut und übernahm
die Fackel der nationalen Befreiungsbewegung. Schon relativ früh befürwortete
der ANC politische Gewalt gegen die BC-Bewegung: so rief er in einer Rundfunkübertragung aus dem Untergrund von 1978 ausdrücklich dazu auf, dass eine Reihebestimmter BC-Persönlichkeiten »liquidiert« werden sollte.
Semelas scharfe Kritikan der Bürokratisierung und Verknöcherungdurch Machtstrukturen
in »Volksbewegungen« ist auch heute noch von Wert - wenn auch mehr in
dem Licht betrachtet, wie z.B. der ANC an der Macht zunehmend zu einer autoritären
Partei degenerierte, die eine Mischung aus elitärer Bereicherung, afrikanisch-
nationalistischer Demagogie uhd neoliberaler Umstrukturierung hervorbringt.
Semela lebt heute zurückgezogen in New York City. Sein Name ist so gut wie vergessen
in Südafrika: keine umfangreiche Biographie, kein Platz in der nationalen
Erinnerung. Für den ANC und die BC-Exilanten ist er eine unbequeme Person, die
man besser vergisst.


Tuesday 28 January 2020

Apartheid's Bushveld Bomb

Simulation of an 18 kiloton air-detonated nuclear blast over the SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. The light grey outer circle (more than 80 square kilometres) is moderate blast damage, the inner orange and purple rings are the almost coterminous fireball and thermal radiation radii (anything within this area would be vapourised instantly), while the green circle is the 500 rem radiation radius. Image courtesy of Nukemap (c) Alex Wellerstein

At the macro-strategic end of the apartheid state’s Total Strategy scale on which small-teams reconnaissance operations sat at the micro-tactical end, the ultra-secret Project Chalet of the South African Defence Force (SADF) achieved a major milestone in November 1979 by producing the pariah state’s first operational nuclear weapon. The first demo model, a cumbersome one-ton-plus device 2m long and 60cm in diameter, designed not to go critical but merely demonstrate the precision of its electro-mechanical components, had been produced under Project Kerktoring (Church-tower) in 1977 by Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC) scientists. An underground “cold,” non-explosive, test had been scrapped in August that year after the test site at Vastrap in the northern Cape had been spotted by a Soviet spy satellite and US spy plane. On 31 October 1978, Prime Minister P.W. Botha ordered Kerktoring transferred to exclusive military control and renamed Project Chalet. According to former AEC nuclear physicist Nic von Weilligh (1) who had worked on Project Chalet, starting in 1979, a “300 series” eventually developed into five pre-production models – two of which were of such high quality that one, 305, was retained as a training device called Hobo, after its warhead was removed. 
     The famous telltale double-flash of a nuclear detonation over South Africa’s south Atlantic Prince Edward Islands possessions detected by the US Vela satellite at 42 seconds past 4.53am on 22 September 1979 appears by all of the scientific data and coinciding evidence to have been a secret 3-kiloton Israeli nuclear test, with the SADF as a mere facilitating and keenly-observing partner. The scientific evidence includes: the signature double-flash light-intensity reading of the bhangmeters on board Vela 6911 – one of a series of Vela satellites monitoring compliance with the Limited Test Ban Treaty; the detection by the radio-astronomy observatory at Arecibo in Puerto Rico at the same time as the twin flash of an anomalous ionospheric wave consistent with a nuclear detonation, a finding that aligns neatly with seismic data from New Zealand and ocean wave and hydro-acoustic data analysed by the US Naval Research Laboratory; plus the low levels of iodine-131, a short-lived radioactive product of nuclear fission, found shortly afterwards in sheep in the states of Victoria and Tasmania, downwind of the incident site. 
     Respected investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (2) had claimed that according to Israeli officials, the Vela incident was the third joint Israeli-South African test in the South Atlantic; Hersh wrote that the actual warhead tested was a low-yield artillery shell, in other words, a miniaturised, tactical battlefield nuke; Israel’s initial nuclear tests are believed to have been conducted in the Algerian desert under French cover and supervision: Israel is believed to have first observed French tests in southern Algeria from 1960 and to have conducted its own underground tests in the Negev Desert in 1963 and 1966, producing its first deliverable nuke by December 1966; by 1979, the CIA believed it possessed between 10 to 20 warheads. A French foreign policy shift three days before the Six-Day War in 1967 closed the door of French collaboration to them; as a nuclear-collaborative state that supplied it with uranium, apartheid South Africa was the obvious option.  Soviet spy Dieter Gerhardt – who had served as a commander in the SA Navy before being exposed and arrested for high treason – claimed in a 1994 interview: ‘“I learned unofficially that the flash was produced by an Israeli-South African test, code-named Operation Phoenix.” (3) 
     There are two options for how the weapon was tested: either the warhead was fired on an Israeli Jericho II two-stage ballistic missile from the Overberg Test Range in the southern Cape downrange towards an aerial detonation point near the target islands, or, as suggested by Leonard Weiss of the Centre for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University in the USA, (4) it was placed on a heavy barge sited off the Prince Edward Islands. Weiss notes that an SA Navy task force was conducting still-classified secret manoeuvures in the relevant period, which would support either delivery option. Wiess cites H.T. Hawkins, Senior Scientist Global Security at the Los Alamos laboratories in the USA, as recalling having shown Vela 6911’s bhangmeter readout to the instrument’s developer Herman Hoerlin. Without hesitation and without knowing the source of the reading, Hoerlin pronounced: “No doubt about it: an atmospheric nuclear explosion, several kilotons in yield, probably surrounded by lots of mass like a barge or the likes of it.”

The Vela Incident? Comparative simulation of a 3 kiloton surface blast (on a heavy barge) at the Prince Edward Islands in 1979. Image courtesy of Nukemap (c) Alex Wellerstein.

     Von Weilligh states that after the Vela incident, an SADF production series of true, deliverable nuclear weapons started with the completion in November 1979 of Video – later renamed Melba and used as a demo model – plus Cabot, number 306, which was upgraded into an active device. Hobo’s warhead was integrated into the first production model called Cabot in December 1982 – “a Christmas gift for PW Botha.” The naming of the nukes is quirky: Hobo is common military slang for “homing bomb,” while Cabot may have been named after Vienese explorer Zuan Chabotto (John Cabot in its Anglicised form) who discovered the east coast of North America in 1497, which as Botha’s “gift” nuke could indicate a deliberate celebration of European colonialism; on the other hand, Melba may be a crude joke, the device being intended to “toast” its target to a crisp. 
     Thereafter, the “500 series” of live nukes produced between 1988 and 1989 gave a total of six operational fission weapons with yields of 10 to 18 kilotons. The fissible yield of the nuke that levelled Hiroshima was measured at 12,5 kilotons.(5) The SADF’s nukes were, however, designed as a deterrent and not for actual combat use: the initial strategy was to secretly reveal their existence to key Cold War powers (the USA and Russia especially), and if that failed, to conduct a cold test, then a hot test (live test detonation) in an escalating battle of wills to force USSR-backed forces in Angola to withdraw. This would later change to a more aggressive stance.
     The SADF nukes were soon stored – noses separate to tails as a safety precaution – in heavy-doored vaults at Advena, a nondescript facility tucked away off the road between south of the Hartebeespoort Dam. Five of them were designed to be dropped from a specially modified SAAF Bucaneer bomber, or fired from a mobile artillery platform, while the last was intended to be launched from an SA-manufactured version of the Jericho II that was thinly disguised as the RSA-2 satellite launch rocket, with a range capable of threatening all hostile Frontline State capitals and ANC/MK and SWAPO exile training camps with utter annihilation. (6) The battle for the maintenance of white supremacy at the continent’s southern tip was entering by far its hottest phase.
     In November 1986, a new nuclear weapons deterrence strategy was approved by Defence Minister Magnus Malan and President P.W. Botha that called for one demonstration model, three gun-type nuclear weapons (a design with a plutonium projectile fired into a highly enriched uranium 235 core to precipitate the fission chain-reaction) that could be delivered by ballistic missiles, and three versions “boosted” with tritium to attain a yield five times larger that would be delivered by medium-range missiles, plus another seven weapons which could be delivered by aircraft. And a massive new facility was planned to produce weapons-grade plutonium and other heavy metals – aiming at an eventual thermonuclear fusion bomb with a yield of around 100 kilotons that would be delivered by intermediate-range ballistic missile by the mid 1990s. But in the 1986 strategy’s worst-case scenario, of South Africa facing a losing war in Angola, the nukes would have not been used strategically against enemy capitals like Luanda, but rather tactically in support of naval and ground forces. This was nevertheless a ratcheting-up of the tension on the previous strategy which had called for a gradual revelation, then mere test demonstration, of SA’s nuclear weapons capacity in order to force Russian-backed forces including the MPLA, SWAPO, and the ANC to step down. 

Comparative simulation of a 100 kiloton thermonuclear blast over Luanda, Angola. The entire city would be destroyed. Estimated casualties: 426,070 dead, 918,160 wounded. Image courtesy of Nukemap (c) Alex Wellerstein.

1) Nic von Weilligh and Lydia von Weilligh-Steyn, The Bomb: South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Programme, Litera Publications, Pretoria, South Africa, 2015.
2) Seymour Hirsch, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Random House, New York City, USA, 1991. 
3) David Albright, South Africa and the Affordable Bomb, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Taylor and Francis, Abingdon, UK, July/August 1994.
4) Leonard Weiss, The Vela Event of 1979 (or the Israeli Nuclear Test of 1979, presentation at a conference entitled The Historical Dimensions of South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Programme, near Pretoria, South Africa, 10 December 2012, online here
5) By far the most superior telling of the developments in nuclear physics leading to the only use of nukes in warfare is Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Penguin Books, London, UK, 1988. The Hiroshima yield is his figure (the bomb being of the same gun-design as that used many decades later in SA); he gave a yield of 22 kilotons for the Nagasaki implosion-design bomb.
6) The slowly unraveling revelations of Projects Kerktoring and Chalet over a period of years are examined in my book Drinking with Ghosts (2014), and were added to by von Weilligh and von Weilligh-Steyn (2015).