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Book Extract: Spy – Uncovering Craig Williamson

Book Extract: Spy – Uncovering Craig Williamson

Through a series of interviews with the many people Craig Williamson interacted with while he was under cover and after his secret identity as a “super spy” was eventually exposed, author JONATHAN ANCER details Williamson’s double life, and the stories of a generation of courageous activists.

Encountering Williamson

After receiving amnesty from the TRC, Craig Williamson disappeared from the public eye and became media-shy. He developed an interest in the tobacco industry and there were persistent rumours that he was involved in the illegal diamond trade in Angola. When the spying couple came back to South Africa in 1980, Williamson’s wife Ingrid specialised as a psychiatrist and built up a thriving practice in Johannesburg. Their daughters went to a well-resourced private school and became competitive horse show jumpers, while their son followed in his father’s footsteps and attended St John’s College, where a school mate remembers Williamson Junior getting drunk in Grade 11 and going on about how his father had fought the communists.

Williamson himself became the stuff of urban legend in Johannesburg. I’d heard from two people that Bernie Fanaroff, a former labour activist and later the South Africa director of the Square Kilometre Array, had ordered Williamson out of his house one day. The story went that Fanaroff ’s wife knew Ingrid professionally and invited her and her husband for dinner. When the couple arrived, Fanaroff opened the door, took one look at Williamson and then closed the door, forcing Williamson to retreat with his tail between his legs. It’s a great story, but Fanaroff says that although his wife knows Ingrid, Williamson has never been to their house, and neither of them has met Williamson himself.

It’s apocryphal, just like the story of Williamson being Charles Nupen’s best man at his wedding.

Fink Haysom – not Williamson – was the best man at my wedding,” insists Nupen. It turns out that the “best man” rumour originated at Williamson’s amnesty bid before the Truth Commission. When George Bizos was cross-examining Williamson at the TRC, he put it to him that ‘as a master of deceit, you even accepted an invitation from Charles Nupen to be his best man’. And although it wasn’t true, Williamson agreed.”

Another version of the dinner story circulated, but the protagonists in this version were not Fanaroff and his wife, but the artist William Kentridge and his wife, Anne Stanwix, a rheumatologist, who had worked with Ingrid. In the story Kentridge did to Williamson what his father – the celebrated advocate Sydney Kentridge, QC – had done to Williamson when cross-examining him in the Auret van Heerden trial a decade earlier. In some versions it was Kentridge who slammed the door on Williamson and in others it was Stanwix who sent the Williamsons packing.

Yes,” says Anne Stanwix, “Ingrid Williamson did take a position in the rheumatology services (Department of Medicine), working a 5/8th post from about 1991 to 1996. So I got to know her in the context of the clinic services we ran at Johannesburg General and Hillbrow hospitals.” Stanwix says Ingrid was a fine person and a very good doctor, whose level of responsibility towards the patients in her care was flawless. She had no idea that Ingrid was married to Williamson. “I remember saying to William that she was a new doctor in the service and was very sociable and I didn’t know anything about her partner/ husband. I had overheard her mentioning to someone that he was a businessman.”

On one occasion Stanwix was hosting a dinner. At the last minute some guests cancelled, so she decided to invite Ingrid and her husband. “But,” says Stanwix, “to pre-empt the denouement, I couldn’t reach her on the phone – no mobiles in those days. So the supper went on without any drama (and without them).”

A little later Stanwix was at a cocktail party and saw Ingrid at a distance. As she approached, someone came up to Ingrid and asked, “How’s Craig?” “I hung back and had that rude shock awakening. Like a panic attack. Shaking.” Stanwix’s realisation that Ingrid was married to Craig Williamson led to some “what if “ speculation. What if Ingrid had answered her call inviting them for supper? What if she had accepted? What if Williamson turned up for dinner? It’s likely that the “what ifs” snowballed and led to the broken-telephone story that cemented the myth.

Stanwix says she did try to discuss Ingrid’s past with her once outside medical hours. “I wanted to give her the benefit of believing that she had also not been ‘in the know’ for a long period about Craig, but she said that she had known all along about his spying activities and had shared his convictions. I think that may explain her loyalty to him when he was ostracised. In part, an acceptance of her culpability and not trying to distance herself from it. Because so many people said if she denounced him, their attitude to her would shift.” Ingrid told Stanwix that it was a matter of choosing different sides in history. “It was an impasse that neither of us could negotiate. She was someone that I would have looked to for a close friendship if it hadn’t been for the knowledge and acknowledgement of the past that made that impossible.”

Since his “retirement”, Williamson may be keeping a low profile, but he hasn’t disappeared. There have been sightings of him in the gym, in coffee shops, in malls, and with the show jumping set. He circulates in “polite company”. Although Williamson’s presence and circulation in society has not involved him in any public contretemps, some of his former colleagues and fellow perpetrators of human rights abuses have had to face publicised confrontations. The most notable recent incident occurred at the 2016 Franschhoek Literary Festival when the former Vlakplaas commander, Eugene de Kock, out on parole after two decades in prison, attended some sessions.

A media furore broke out when the author Lauren Beukes confronted De Kock at an awards evening at the festival and told him that his presence was making people uncomfortable. De Kock apologised and left. One of the people who responded to De Kock’s presence at the literary festival was the writer and publisher Palesa Morudu, who was in the audience at a panel discussion with the authors Anemari Jansen, who wrote De Kock’s biography, and the former MK commander Stanley Manong, whose autobiography If We Must Die had just appeared. De Kock’s unit had intercepted several of Manong’s operations inside the country and may have played a role in the killing of Manong’s mother.

At the panel discussion of their books, De Kock walked into the hall and sat next to Morudu. She froze when she realised who he was. “There is a history between my family and De Kock. I always wondered how I would react if I ever met him in person,” she wrote in a piece for the online publication Daily Maverick.

Morudu says that when Manong spoke about some of his operations that De Kock had intercepted and of the people De Kock had turned into askaris or else killed, De Kock started to have a quiet cry. “Only five people in the room knew he was in the audience, and only those in his immediate vicinity would have noticed the tears coming down his face. Jansen mentioned the work De Kock was doing with the Missing Persons Task Team (a unit within the National Prosecuting Authority to locate the bodies of victims and return them to their families). At which, it was my turn to have a quiet cry.

Morudu explained that her mother had met De Kock to ask him about her missing son, an MK soldier in Mamelodi. “De Kock delivered. The details are gruesome, but the chapter is now closed. I always wondered what I would do if I ever met De Kock. Now he was sitting next to me. He has been crying. I have been crying. History is a messy business. The session ends. Do I walk or do I talk to this murderer, a broken man? I choose the latter. He remembers meeting my mother. “I’m glad I could help,” he says. I am completely conflicted.”

During the course of interviews with people who had encountered Williamson during his career as an apartheid agent, I asked what they would say or do if they bumped into him.

Eric Abraham, anti-apartheid activist whom Williamson used to gain credibility by fleeing the country with him:

I did speak to him on the phone when I made Betrayal (a radio drama about Abraham’s experiences as a journalist and activist under apartheid). His nonchalance was chilling. If I had to bump into him now I would ask him, “Does Jeanette and her daughter’s killing ever wake you up at night?”

Guy Berger, activist who was interrogated by Williamson:

The last time I had seen him he was being bombastic in court and then I saw him at the airport and I got the shock of my life. I not only had a shock because I wasn’t expecting to see him, but he was also enormous – he was bigger than Orson Wells. At my trial and when he interrogated me he was large, but he wasn’t gross; now he wasn’t just gross, he was grotesque. I was upset because he was walking around and I was pleased because he had physically become a walking abomination. I had very mixed emotions. I think he recognised me, but I kept on walking.

Ronnie Kasrils, ANC leader in exile, who worked with Williamson:

I encountered him in 1992 when Robert McBride asked me to meet Williamson. The guy was enormously fat by then. I tried to pry – get some information – but he wasn’t forthcoming. He probably wanted to see if I could help him, but nothing came of it. Williamson was very devious, untrustworthy and played his cards very close to his chest. A very self-controlled guy, except for the weight factor – that’s probably a Freudian sign, the way he had to cope. I tried to see what I could find out about him when I was Deputy Minister and Minister of Intelligence, but his file was destroyed. They destroyed everything of value.

Mac Maharaj, ANC leader in exile, who encountered Williamson’s ANC cell:

Williamson has no remorse and has not told the truth. If we saw each other on the street now, I think he would take a turn to avoid me. Not that I would beat him up but because he knows I’m likely to say something that he would not be able to handle and that someone would be a witness to me belittling him. But Craig did fuck-all to me. I’m all right.

Aziz Pahad, ANC leader in exile, who worked with Williamson:

I heard that he was doing business in Angola and I thought, I hope the Angolans know who they are dealing with. I want to talk to this guy. I don’t want to persecute him, but I want some clarifications about his IUEF objectives. Whenever I met (the former head of South Africa’s National Intelligence Service) Niël Barnard, I asked him about Craig Williamson – he would never name names. When we were involved in secret talks, in the informal chats, he would hint that they had infiltrated us, and say: “We know what you guys discussed in the NEC (National Executive Committee).” I would say, “Who were your guys who infiltrated us, Niël, who are your bleddy people?” He said: “Forget it. If I didn’t tell Mandela, why would I tell you?’’

Paula Ensor, Jeanette Schoon’s best friend:

I’ve often thought about that and instinctively I’ve thought that I would assault him. And then I say to myself – no. I don’t think it bothers him what he did – I don’t think he gives a shit. I cannot tell you how shocked I was when I found out she’d been murdered. I was watching TV and Katryn’s face appeared on the screen. When I saw her face, I just knew. I just knew … I just knew what had happened. She was absolutely beautiful – she looked like a little angel with these blonde curls. She would have been in her 30s now – and nothing would have given Jeanette greater pleasure than having grandchildren. Oh wow. I can’t talk about that… it’s too painful.

Duncan Innes, who was interrogated by Williamson:

When I was Nusas president, Jenny was on my executive and we became very close. I was horrified when she and her daughter were killed. I didn’t know Craig did that sort of thing. I thought he was a spy – not a man who sent parcel bombs. I thought, When I get a chance I’m going to tell him what a shit I think he is. I did get a chance. In about 2012 my wife and I were driving from Johannesburg to Cape Town for a holiday and broke the journey by staying on a farm just outside Colesberg. We went into the bar at the farm for a drink before dinner. I greeted the fellow guests as I walked in with a general “hello, hello” and there in the left-hand corner I spotted this fat man. He wasn’t looking at me. I thought, Jesus, that’s Craig. I was stunned. I’d just been handed a glass of wine, which I was tempted to throw over him. Instead, I turned and walked out. I suppose I would ask him, What kind of person are you to kill Jeanette and her daughter, and Ruth? Maybe if it had been closer to the time they had been killed, I would have hit him in the face and kicked him in the balls.

Janet Love, ANC member and Jeanette Curtis’s housemate:

He’s one person I feel I won’t be restrained towards –- I feel anger; seething anger towards him. I don’t know what I would do if I saw him. I don’t feel terribly rational about it. He was part of so much evil. Williamson hasn’t told the truth and hasn’t acknowledged what he did. He damaged so many lives and deprived people of their lives – and has just been able to move on. That’s not right. I remember speaking to Marius (Schoon) about Williamson – and there was a sense that while part of the TRC was about recognising the contribution, dedication and heroism of people like Jeanette who got us to democracy, there was also a part where there needed to be a huge amount of accountability – but with Williamson, there wasn’t any accountability. The idea that someone like Jenny, who had the level of gentle strength and commitment that she had, could be gone in a flash because of an insane, murderous and hateful individual is just unbelievable.

Auret van Heerden, Nusas president who was detained:

The guys who tortured me are the same guys who killed Neil Aggett. I never ever felt any malice towards them for what they did to me. A couple of them were evil guys but they were a product of the system. I got to know them and developed a kind of relationship with them because I spent so much time with them during interrogation. Williamson was different – he was a product of the system, but he was more than that; he was an agent of the system. I think he bears a lot more responsibility than the policemen who were torturing us. Williamson made very clear choices – in a way the other guys didn’t see they had choices.

Harry Nengwekhulu, Black Consciousness leader and IUEF representative:

I don’t think I hate him – he is just one of the foot soldiers. I’m angry about De Klerk, who got the Nobel Prize for Peace but never took responsibility. I feel angry at the political leaders who just washed their hands. The foot soldiers like Williamson were small fry – they were just doing what they were told. He killed people and should be punished, but big punishment should be reserved for leaders like De Klerk, who are now experts in democracy. I lost my youth in the struggle and now these people are flourishing as experts in democracy. I feel anger that Williamson participated in killing. I met up with Marius (Schoon) a year before he died and we talked about Craig – he was very bitter. I would ask Craig to tell me about his dishonesty and I would tell him that Marius died a very unhappy man because of him. I would ask him how he felt about the fact that he killed people who accommodated him, who took him into their house, and who believed he was part of the struggle.

Sherry McLean, Marius Schoon’s wife and Fritz’s stepmother:

I was driving back from Pretoria one day after Marius had died. I was in the fast lane – not going too fast – and the next thing this huge Chrysler comes up behind me, right up against the bumper. Clearly I wasn’t going fast enough for him. I looked at the number plate: it was CMW – Craig Michael Williamson – and behind the wheel was this gross lump of a man. It shows you that his personality is to push people out of his way. I was driving a little Golf and he didn’t know who I was. It’s just an indication of the type of character he is.

Charles Nupen, Nusas president who was friendly with Williamson:

If I had to bump into him? That’s a difficult question to answer in the abstract. I can’t be clear, but there would be no attempt to engage him constructively. How do you respond to someone who was responsible for the murder of people who you really liked and who you regarded as a good friend? You can only respond with complete and utter contempt. As the story unfolded and his nefarious activities were revealed, I had increasing disdain for the man. And when I heard he had been responsible for Jenny (Schoon’s) death I felt… Well, words fail me. Disgusted. I despise him.

Danny Berger, who argued against Williamson’s amnesty application at the TRC:

I would rather not be contaminated by him. He escaped everything – and he still walks around, but he’s not the kind of person who feels shame or remorse. The TRC was an imperfect system; and some cases worked better than others. This case didn’t work.

Tad Matsui, clergyman who worked for the WUS and whom Williamson befriended in Switzerland:

I was part of the election observer team organised by the World Council of Churches in 1994. I thought of contacting Williamson when I was in South Africa. I went to a party where I met a journalist who heard that I had been friends with Williamson. The journalist was fascinated and he found an address for Williamson for me. I was tempted to go see him, because I was curious, but I couldn’t do it. I guess I was scared. I’d want to know how he managed to lie all the time like that.

I just couldn’t imagine someone who looked like a nice guy living a lie 24 hours a day. Of course, I hated him when I found he had something to do with Steve Biko’s death, but I don’t have any hatred towards him any more.

Renfrew Christie, anti-apartheid activist Williamson testified against in a trial in which he received a 10-year jail term:

In the end we got what the ANC wanted – a democracy in which everyone votes. He lost. What else is there to say? Not that I’m gloating. I was fighting a democratic war against Nazis – and my answer to Craig Williamson is: we won. DM


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