12. The French connection
Lauriergracht, Amsterdam, 11 February 1990
All the chairs in the AABN’s office have been grouped around the television in the corner of the administration room. We are watching the gates of the Victor Verster prison in Cape Town. We have been watching the same image for more than two hours, yet we have not moved from our seats. In front of the gates on the screen little white men walk to and fro excitedly, talking into microphones with variations on the same theme. Do we see him yet or don’t we? Not long ago – yesterday – the white reporters knew they were not supposed to be talking about “him” at all, and therefore didn’t. But that was yesterday and today we hang on to their every little word.
We: South African exiles, activists, journalists, development gurus, artists and one city mayor with tears in his eyes. For he, the Jew whose family underwent Nazi persecution, has been waiting eagerly for “the last fortress of racial hatred” to come down in South Africa, dedicating his mayoral term for the past four years to offering Amsterdam as “anti-apartheid city”, place of fresh air, warmth, welcome and support for the racially persecuted of our times.
Now he waits eagerly, impatiently, almost not daring to believe, for the final demise of his World War II.
We sit, watch and sometimes whisper, full of hope and joyful anticipation, as if we are expecting somebody home from hospital, brought back from the edge of death, or with a new deeply desired baby. Maybe it will take a few more hours, but it doesn’t matter.
Mandela will be released today.
When the moment is there, when Nelson and Winnie walk, hand in hand, down the dusty stretch of road between the prison gates and the crowds, he with his sweet grandfather’s grin, she strong and beaming, some of our rickety chairs give in. There is clapping, jumping, embracing. Conny cries and laughs at the same time. Somebody runs to get champagne – did we forget to buy it in advance or did we hesitate, thinking it a bad omen, because maybe something would go wrong? The ANC flag is hoisted out of our window overlooking the Lauriergracht.
Exiled musician Mike sits on the floor without knowing what to say or do, confused by his own happiness. “I can go home,” he repeats, and now he is crying too. “I can go home.”
“See you in five years in Johannesburg”, we used to tell each other. In five years we will go, meet each other there, at homes instead of conference centres. We will see Johannesburg and Table Mountain and feel the warmth of the Indian Ocean, together on the no longer white, yet still white, beaches. Five years had been a multi-interpretable term. To some, it had been ten or fifteen. To others, thirty.
For many – including Dulcie – it would never come.
It isn’t over yet. The government is that of FW de Klerk. Blacks don’t vote. Mandela is no more than a freed prisoner. There are still thousands, on Robben Island, in Pollsmoor, on death row in Pretoria. But still it is almost liberation day: the beginning of the end.
Some at the AABN ask me if I still continue this research. “Aren’t there other priorities now?” I have been asking myself that same question. Why is this case so important to me, almost to the exclusion of everything else? Warriors have been let loose on Soweto, raised into a frenzy by a Third Force, incited to massacre and cause havoc. Why don’t I spend my time correcting the racist images of “black-on-black violence” that are spreading like wildfire through the white Western world? Why do I keep obsessing about one stubborn schoolteacher who did not like unfinished work?
Perhaps, as so often, asking the question is to answer it.
Rue des Petites Écuries, February 1990
“A bunch of vultures,” Joyce sniffs. “I have seen them with their briefcases on the corridors of the offices of France Libertés. Framatome, ELF, Thomson CSF, Spie Batignolles, Total, Bolloré, Renault, Peugeot, Bouygues, Dumez. Happily compiling their contacts and future contracts. Now that Mandela is free, nothing can stop them.”
The emotion in her voice is unusual. Joyce is always the epitome of seriousness and calm, with her tight light brown face, her mane of black hair tamed into a ponytail with an elastic ribbon. It is my report to her on the conference of Marly-le-Roi that has caused this outburst.
I have felt for a while now that she knows, or suspects, much about her former employer’s death. But she had never before said much about it. “They trade arms with South Africa,” I say, and add: “There is a lot of money at stake.” Joyce sighs. “As long as you are the one who says that.” She moves paper around on her desk, wheels an A4 sheet into the type writer. “She wanted to visit the Framatome facilities. But they would not allow her.”
The following day she phones me at my hotel. “A fax for you, from the AABN.” Bart has sent me an article from the South African progressive newspaper the Weekly Mail, on the recent murder of another activist in Southern Africa: Anton Lubowski. “Mafia link to Lubowski death”, it says.
I had heard of the case. Anton Lubowski had been a young, idealistic lawyer and one of the few leading white members of SWAPO in Namibia. The recently held first democratic elections in the history of this apartheid-occupied country had been a glorious victory for the movement, and the result would have given Lubowski huge happiness and fulfilment, had he not been killed a month before them, in September last year.
It had been a professional hit, similar to the way in which Dulcie September had been killed. It had happened right in front of his door. He had been alone. There had been a few bullets and no trace of the killer. The newspapers had reported that the bullets had hit him from behind.
The motive in this case, however, had seemed crystal clear. It had happened in Namibia, one of the frontline states that had seen much killing by South African death squads before. Anton Lubowski had been the best educated, most skilled new leader available to the SWAPO movement and his house had been the provisional headquarters of SWAPO in Namibia’s capital city Windhoek. His computers contained the SWAPO administration. He handled all important financial and legal matters; his nickname was “Mr SWAPO”, or the “white kaffir”.
He had been proud of that last one. “It is true, I am a white kaffir,” he had told a friendly journalist. Interpretations of what he meant by that differ. In what way is a “white kaffir” different from an ordinary white person, or similar to an ordinary black? Did he mean he did not care for the white establishment he was born into? That he lived each day as if he had nothing to lose? His white clients had left his advocate’s practice when it became known he hung out with “them” and that he defended “them”.
Anton Lubowski had joined “them”, the “kaffirs”. He had also shared the nouveau riche features of those among the formerly oppressed who were now eyed as ministers and had access to some money. He had loved fast cars, fashionable suits, good whisky, passionate politics and passionate love affairs. He had been a powerful “white kaffir” with powerful skills, powerful friends and powerful networks.
Everyone had agreed that the Lubowski murder had to have been a project of apartheid South Africa. A killing intended to confuse and disorganise SWAPO on the eve of its expected electoral victory, maybe even endangering that victory itself. But the article Bart sent me is headlined “Mafia link to Lubowski death” and it throws an entirely different light on the matter.
The article mentions “allegations” that Anton Lubowski had been dealing with the mafia. That Italian Mafia kingpin Vito Palazzolo had tried to involve the SWAPO lawyer in acquiring a stronghold in Windhoek – a casino – where Palazzolo intended pursuing his favourite hobby, laundering money from drugs, and diamond transactions. Lubowski had visited Palazzolo in Switzerland, where the latter was still in jail on Mafia-related charges.
Palazzolo had ostensibly wanted Lubowski to only make a case for citizenship rights in Namibia for him, but the real motive for him wanting to hire the well-connected SWAPO lawyer, the article suggests, were billion-dollar Mafia business interests and a Windhoek casino to launder these. Palazzolo had apparently tried to get the SWAPO man to use his influence to get what he, Palazzolo, wanted in Namibia, but Lubowski had said no. “Anton Lubowski did not deliver,” the article continues. “The mafia shot him for that.”
I remember the name Palazzolo. Alexander Manson had told me about him and his fellow Italian businessmen, Roberto Scio and Giovanni Mario Ricci, a million times. Together he had called them the “pizza connection” to the illicit trafficking networks of the South African military. The article also mentions a French businessman friend of Anton Lubowski’s, named Alain Guenon. It suggests this Guenon may have had something to do with the actual murder. “Two days before his death, Anton Lubowski phoned Alain Guenon, who was at the time on a business trip in the US,” the article says. “Lubowski asked Guenon to come and help him.” Apparently Guenon did not do that.
The article is vague on the question of whether this man Guenon could indeed have saved the SWAPO lawyer, or how. The final allegation in the article is that after Lubowski’s death, money from Guenon was found in Lubowski’s account. And that is where it stops.
Could this have anything to do with Dulcie? That Lubowski knew a French businessman doesn’t seem, on its own, to warrant such a suspicion. Who is this Alain Guenon? Joyce frowns, repeats the name in her perfect French. “I have heard of him. I heard he was also involved with Danielle Mitterrand’s foundation. You know, France Libertés.”
“It is true. He tried to get in here. We chucked him out,” says exiled South African author and personal friend of the Mitterrand family, Breyten Breytenbach. “We knew there was something fishy about him from the start. When somebody told me he was not an honest businessman, but an agent for South African military intelligence, we asked him to leave.” Abdul Minty had spoken about a French businessman who had been thrown out of the conference after talking openly about nuclear deals with Pretoria. Was it the same businessman, was it Alain Guenon?
“I don’t know of an incident related to nuclear matters, or statements about nuclear matters,” says Breytenbach. “But we only threw out one businessman and that was Alain Guenon. He pretended to be a friend of the ANC, but I don’t think he was.”
Military intelligence. Friend of Anton Lubowski. Friend of the ANC. Could it be that Alain Guenon had been a “friend” of Dulcie September too? “I don’t know about Dulcie September,” says Breytenbach, puzzled. “But Guenon’s mission seemed to be to make contacts with the South African opposition in France and in South Africa. That was actually a French project – the French foreign secret service, the DGSE, was doing that. But somehow this Guenon was involved in it, too.”
Can Breytenbach please tell me more about that project? “I’d rather not. It is very sensitive. I am just happy that that man did not obtain our list of names of attending opposition members. Even if he was close to Winnie Mandela herself.” Winnie? “I thought you would know that already,” says Breytenbach. “He came to us with a letter of introduction written by Winnie Mandela.”
Châtelet, Theâtre de la Ville
More reluctantly than before, but still curious, Marcel Béart studies the papers I obtained from the companies’ registry on Alain Guenon’s company. It is a press consultancy called Adage Presse. “I can’t make much of this,” he says when he has finished paging through the file. “There is not enough information. Looks like a typical two-men-and-a-fax-machine outfit, not a real press agency or anything like that. I certainly never heard of Adage Presse doing any actual work here in France. Maybe he just uses it as a vehicle when he is in Africa. Something for a business card.” He pauses, looks up with a frown, and continues. “But I would be careful if I were you. The office manager listed here is Jacques Montaron. That’s a very close friend of the Mitterrand family.”
Notre Dame, the park
Frédéric Pelissier is more than interested in the Weekly Mail article on Alain Guenon. “We had our feelers out for this man, too,” is all he says. “It is interesting that he has now been mentioned in connection with a murder.” Or maybe it’s two murders, I venture. “Easy now,” laughs Pelissier. “He has only been mentioned in connection with one. You should go see Yves Bataille.” He writes out an address on a piece of paper. Librairie Contrescarpe, I read. Place de la Contrescarpe, near the Rue Mouffetard. “Tell him I sent you.”
Rue Monge, at night
“You must be one of these xenophiles,” says the man with the dark glasses and the military-style haircut. “The type who wants to sleep with blacks and destroy our civilisation.” He is not saying it in an aggressive manner, but resignedly, as if he knows that the world is full of such idiots, willing to sell out their culture, colour and history to dark-hued strangers.
The man whose name is Yves Bataille is drinking his third beer in a bar in the Rue Monge, where he has invited me after an initial discussion in his bookshop which is full of right-wing, Raids-type, “adventurer” stuff at the Place de la Contrescarpe. The bookshop right at the beginning of the touristy-busy Rue Mouffetard is a reference and meeting point for those who travel between Paris, Marseilles and the Comoros. The man whose surname means “fight” meets and entertains them in his bookshop where he lends them his racist war books to enhance their political education and fighting skills. He knows all the Comorians. And he says Alain Guenon is, or used to be, one of them.
“I was surprised too, when I suddenly found Alain’s name in the left-wing xenophile press,” he had told me when we were still at the library. “No use beating about the bush. Alain! He made me laugh. Hanging about with the kaffirs and the communists like that. He had always been one of us. But maybe the money was better on the other side.” Alain Guenon was really a Comorian? “Sure,” Bataille had said. “He was with us from the Algerian days. When we were fighting to keep our civilisation intact in that part of Africa.”
Comorian contact man Jean Taousson also had an Algerian past. Taousson and at least two other Comorians had some connection with the killing of Dulcie: Monsieur G, who had drawn up the map of the fourth floor in the Rue des Petites Écuries for Taousson, and who according to Marcel Béart “had gone over to the socialists” and Antonia Soton, who had lived on the Comoros with Richard Rouget and who had had advance knowledge of the murder. And now a man called Alain Guenon, whose office manager is a close friend to the Mitterrand family, who does nuclear deals and has been linked to murdered Anton Lubowski, is a Comorian too.
I want to go to my hotel room and write it all down, but for now I am stuck here in the Rue Monge with a sad white man who is mourning the loss of Algeria. “You see what has happened,” he continues, drunkenly. “The kaffirs ruined everything. They don’t have civilisation. They are chaos. And anti-us. If only we could have stuck together. But the socialists betrayed us.” I listen, thinking of Dulcie, who once joined a resistance movement with a name borrowed from the Algerian National Liberation Front.
Dulcie had been a brown woman. Coloured, métisse the man Bataille has called her, dehumanising her, hissing, making her sound like some kind of reptile. “Why should I care about that métisse,” he said, shrugging. “If I knew who had killed her, I would tell you. For the history books’ sake it would be good to know. But I don’t care about the half-bloods, no more than I care for the kaffirs or the Arabs. Do they care about us? As soon as one of us humps one of them, one more is created. One more to fight us, to destroy what we have built.”
For another few hours tonight he will continue to complain and to beg for understanding, for an undertaking to join him in his loneliness, talking of treason and loss and invading enemy gene pools. Until I have had enough and leave, and as I turn back with the cold wind refreshing me, I feel free and tell him that he is only limiting himself, oppressing himself, because the world is multi-coloured and wonderful.
Yves Bataille shakes his head. “You really are such a xenophile,” he says and we both walk away in our opposite directions.
Rue des Petites Écuries, the next day
“I hope you are not telling anybody that I am helping you,” Joyce says. “I still have no proper residence permit and I don’t want trouble with the police.” She places the files stamped “military”, which I have asked to see once again, in front of me on the table in the administration room. “If anybody asks who is showing you these things,” she continues. “You must just say that it is Solly.” We laugh a bit. Solly Smith is in the office next to us, hungover, not speaking, not even a shadow of his old self.
But it looks like there is nothing.
Yes, she tried to campaign for arms sanctions, but nothing shows that she was even remotely successful in doing that. Painfully humiliating, patronising letters from arms manufacturers addressed to “Chère Mme September” say that of course they support her, that of course apartheid is terrible, but that no, what they do can’t be called “sanctions busting”, as it is perfectly acceptable to sell electronic equipment for civilian uses and that therefore Madame must rather direct her energies somewhere else.
“I can’t find a motive,” I sigh. “Whatever it was that she did that had to be stopped is not in here.” Joyce looks disappointed, as if I have failed an exam. “It has to be there,” she says. “Dulcie was onto something. It had to do with the military. She was corresponding with a union man. You must have seen the letters.” I remember a letter from a union representative in SNECMA, Société nationale d’étude et de construction de moteurs d’aviation, an aircraft and rocket technology manufacturing company in Courcouronnes, south of Paris. The union man, called Cailloux, had been supportive of sanctions, but his letter didn’t say much and anyway he was not the boss at SNECMA.
SNECMA’s director was a General Capillon who had responded to Dulcie, respectfully, that his company was really not breaking military sanctions. “I remember she went off to investigate deeper after that. She was talking to somebody else,” says Joyce. “But her appointments diary is gone.” She explains that, after Dulcie’s death, the police collected everything that could be of use in the investigation, up to the papers on her desk and her mail. “Later, they brought the papers back. But they kept the diary.”
We are silent for a while. I think of trying to see the union man at SNECMA, but reject the idea. Judging from the correspondence, the man, Cailloux doesn’t seem to have known much. He had referred Dulcie to the big boss, Capillon. And there is no sign that Dulcie ever got to meet him. From what I can gather from the file, SNECMA makes highly developed technology for missile engines.
Joyce, still busy with the shelves, takes down a file full of newspaper cuttings and pamphlets titled “Travels and conferences”. “Maybe you’ll find something here,” she says. “Dulcie did not really travel much in the period immediately before she was killed, though.” I page through the file until my eye catches some documents about a trip to Switzerland in late 1987. Longo Maï, it reads.
“Yes,” says Joyce, as if she had expected me to look at that report first. “It was autumn. It had been rather a long trip, visiting several towns in Switzerland. Dulcie was nervous when she came back. As if something had happened that worried her. But she never told me what it was. It was after that that she started making those phone calls to the ANC.” Joyce had never told me about Dulcie’s phone calls to the London ANC office. But now that she knows Solly Smith told me about them, she refers to them, too.
I ask what “Longo Maï” is. “The people who organised Dulcie’s trip,” Joyce explains. “They are an anarchist commune of people who live together in the Haute Provence, grow vegetables, keep goats, practise an alternative lifestyle, that sort of thing. But they are political, too. They are anti-white European establishment, and pro immigrants and refugees. They have their own newspaper and radio station, they hold conferences. They liaise with radical groups in other countries – the Kurds, the PLO, the IRA, and liberation movements from the Third World. They also support the ANC. They used to invite Dulcie all the time. But this time they hosted her – besides in the towns that were visited – in a more confined place. There were dogs. She felt unfree, threatened. She told me that when she came back. She was scared from then on.”
Pour que ça dure
Does the name Longo Maï mean anything? “In the local dialect it means ‘pour que ça dure’, ’This must stay’.” Joyce seems to know them more than just from correspondence. I ask if she has gone there, too, at some stage. She looks down at her desk, moves papers around. “Yes,” she says softly. “I did go. But not that time. I went with her the first time. In 1985.”
She tells me how a guided tour of the Longo Maï commune for Dulcie September and herself left both women with mixed feelings, then. “The people who received us were very warm and supportive. But there seemed to be various layers to their small society. Our hosts – men – were showing us around and chatting to us all the time, but no one else came to talk or socialise, even though everybody was supposed to be equal in the group. It seemed that entertaining us was the privilege of a few important guys. All the women we saw were hard at work, working the fields and tending animals or cooking.”
After a while, Joyce had started to notice what she called the “guerrilla” side of Longo Maï. “The guys made Dulcie an offer of military assistance – of weapons for the ANC.” Did she accept? “No. As usual, she stuck to ANC policy. When it came to the ANC’s own military structures, they would have to contact the armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe. Not her.”
Joyce then recounts hearing a sound as she passed by a small hut somewhere on the fields. “Some rattling, possibly of a telex machine. I wandered off to peek inside the hut and saw something that looked like a communications installation, equipment used for coded communications perhaps.” Does she know anything about coded communications equipment? She laughs shyly. “I was a Black Panther, you know. I learned some things.” And no, she doesn’t want to talk about the extent of those things. “Suffice to say that the French are still wary of me. That is why I have problems with my papers.”
I read through the Longo Maï file. At first sight there seems to be nothing extraordinary about the radical anti-establishment group. I find pamphlets in the exaggerated style I know from the Dutch squatter movement: “we are autonomous”; “we will smash the system”, “beacon of support to the oppressed peoples of this world”, “the capitalist warmongers shiver as we send our vibes further every day”, and so on. A group like this would perhaps indeed offer to support the ANC’s armed struggle, even if only with petrol bombs. But what would they be doing with coded communications?
Further perusing the papers in the travel file, a pamphlet about a conference Longo Maï held a few years ago “for refugees” in the south of France looks vaguely familiar. The conference was organised by the refugee arm of Longo Maï, called CEDRI, which stands for “Centre Européen pour les droits des réfugiés et immigrants”. The name rings a bell in my mind. I am pretty sure I don’t know the organisation from any past left-wing activist exploits, but I have seen the name somewhere.
Then I remember. It was in the very French newsletter that had mentioned Jean Taousson, the former mercenary contact man who now worked in the Home Affairs ministry. The man who had had a Comorian draw up a map of the ANC’s office floor in the Rue des Petites Écuries. In 1985, the same Indian Ocean Newsletter had published the rumour that “ANC representatives who were too close to the extreme left wing in Europe” were to be killed “by a South African death squad”. The newsletter had mentioned CEDRI and Dulcie specifically. “It is well known that the French ANC representative has attended a CEDRI conference,” the article had said, implying that Dulcie was in mortal danger if she continued to maintain contact with the group.
I had come across the article after Dulcie had been killed, because the same newsletter had written about Jean Taousson in that context, repeating what it had written three years before in 1985. “So it has finally happened,” had been the tone of the article just after the murder, published on 30 March 1988.
I had dismissed it as nonsense. The South African regime would not kill an exiled person in Europe merely because that somebody had attended a radical conference. Exiles attended radical conferences all the time. And the South Africans were usually quite happy when the ANC was having discussions with members of the IRA, PLO, or whatever other radical, so-called terrorist group. These events scored big propaganda points in the South African political war against the ANC. “You see now?” the argument would go. “See how close they are to other terrorists? See how the ANC itself is a terrorist organisation?”
Even the editor of the newsletter, Maurice Botbol, had laughed when I had visited him to ask where he got this information. “Of course we didn’t get this news from the South Africans. This is from the French,” he had said.
It was still strange. Why would “the French” be so worried about Dulcie September’s contacts with a left-wing commune in the mountains? Did their concern have something to do with the communications equipment Joyce had come across when visiting the place? Joyce had said that Dulcie had been nervous and scared after coming back from her trip with Longo Maï. She had also said that it was then that she had started to make agitated phone calls to Aziz Pahad and Solly Smith at the London office.
Chátelet, Café Sarah Bernhardt
Jacques Belmont is a researcher for the French anti-fascist group Celsius and, I have been told, a virtual library of knowledge about mercenaries and the arms trade. His appearance is slightly at odds with the usual “Antifa” look, and even more so with the rest of the fashionable clientele in this Châtelet café, chosen by him as a meeting point. Belmont looks like a tired and dejected post-office worker or bus driver, with short, greasy hair crowning a pimply, dough-like, unhealthy face. His overweight body is dressed in crinkled shirt and ill-fitting trousers. But he seems happy enough. “You have to confuse the enemy,” he responds when I remark that he doesn’t look at all like what I had expected from a Celsius member.
The way he talks, easy-going and friendly, makes me feel comfortable and relaxed. How I needed to feel this way again, even just for a while, just drinking coffee and watching the pigeons and the passengers at this square next to the Seine, where the police and the court of justice are safely tucked away on the other bank. Next to us is the Theâtre de la Ville, where la Bernhardt used to mesmerise her audiences. A nice quiet vibe reigns here.
Jacques Belmont knows about the anarchist Longo Maï commune in the mountains. “Such a spy nest,” he grins. “I have a friend in the intelligence services who went to spy on them. To his surprise, he saw the place was crowded with colleagues. There were at least twelve secret services there!” Belmont seems to think it is a bit of a joke. “It probably has to do with the place being a convenient spot for networking and gossip.” I don’t tell him what Joyce said about the telex rattling in a shed somewhere on the terrain of the commune.
Marcel Béart does not think Longo Maï is funny at all. “I hope you are not seriously thinking of going there. That could be dangerous. A colleague of mine – his name was Bernard Nut – investigated them some years back, in 1983. He was found face down in a small mountain stream near the commune that same year.” Béart says he does not know what the late Bernard Nut had been investigating exactly. “But he had notes on him which were confiscated by the DGSE who were the first to arrive at the scene. I have only heard rumours, saying that some of the people who were connected there were suspected of doing business deals involving big money. There was talk of visitors in suits, with briefcases.”
He doesn’t have a clue what type of business deals? Béart shrugs. “I have heard that part of it concerned a new piloting school, which was set up close to where they stay, near Limans. It was considered odd that these people should have an interest in aircraft and avionics. Especially considering where the commune is situated.” What does he mean, where the commune is situated? Concerned eyes. “You didn’t know that? The place is twenty kilometres away from our base for atomic missiles. Of course there were suspicions of military industrial espionage. There is a lot of that going on at our Plateau d’Albion.”
I have always been bad at geography and it hadn’t occurred to me that Longo Maï’s base in the Limans-Forcalquier area is a mere twenty kilometres as the crow flies from the Plateau d’Albion, France’s highly secret nuclear missiles base.
SNECMA’s missiles were there.
After he has gone, I think of Marcel Béart and how tired and grey he looks, a little more tired and grey every time we meet. He hasn’t had permission to join the “arts people” as he had hoped and he doesn’t seem to be enjoying his work at all now. This muckraking may not have been good for him. Bringing up dirt is not nice. It spoils your appetite, it makes a mockery of the vision which guides you. It turns your chosen path into a slimy trench. Ton Regtien, too, became depressed when he found that his old friends were starting to overlap with the new murderers. And even Jesús is not his old self any more. His Algerian partner Cherif is not well, and the strain of caring for him is impacting on La Fonda. DM
Floyd Mayweather was once challenged by 50 Cent to read a single page from Harry Potter.