In a new book just published about his ordeal in Juba in South Sudan, Former SA National Defence Force colonel William Endley settles many scores, and is particularly critical of an oil deal which then Energy Minister Jeff Radebe signed with the South Sudanese government just before he left office in 2019.
Endley, who was eventually pardoned and released by South Sudan President Salva Kiir on November 2, 2018, raises his suspicions in No Justice, No Mercy; A South Sudan Story.
The book reveals much about the horrors of Kiir’s government, including its alleged abduction of two political opponents, Aggrey Idri and Samuel Dong Luak, from Kenya and their brutal murder in 2017. The book includes photographs of the two men apparently being beheaded with knives in the style of the Islamic State. Endley is scathing about the ANC’s relationship with Kiir’s ruling party, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) – aka the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – and about South Africa’s (particularly President Cyril Ramaphosa’s) attempt to broker peace in the conflict in South Sudan.
Ramaphosa, then the deputy president of South Africa and the ANC, was appointed by President Jacob Zuma as his special envoy to try to end the civil war which had erupted in December 2013 after a personal bust-up between Kiir and Machar (then deputy president of the SPLM and the country), when Kiir accused him of plotting a coup against him.
South Sudan was then just 30 months old, having seceded from Sudan in July 2011.
Endley, who had begun working as a security adviser to Machar in 2015, claims Ramaphosa’s initial approach to his mediation was to try to patch up the quarrel inside the SPLM. This was the wrong approach and he believes it was designed to favour Kiir’s SPLM. By that time Machar had left the SPLM to form the SPLM-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) and was not interested in rejoining Kiir’s party. What he wanted was guarantees of peace and safety.
Endley claims Ramaphosa showed his bias towards Kiir and against Machar by ignoring the fact it was Kiir’s determination to eliminate Machar as a political rival that was the ultimate cause of the civil war. Instead, Ramaphosa held Machar responsible for the conflict. The bias, he says, became obvious in June 2015 when Ramaphosa personally escorted members of the SPLM-FD back to Juba to take up posts in a proposed transitional government – but left out Machar’s SPLM-IO.
Machar had fled South Sudan after the first outburst of fighting in 2013. Though he had signed the Arusha Agreement, a peace pact, in Tanzania with Kiir’s SPLM and SPLM-FD, in January 2015, he remained concerned about his personal safety, convinced that Kiir would try to kill him again if he returned to Juba.
He eventually did return in April 2016 and Endley went with him. But in July 2016, as feared, Kiir’s and Machar’s troops got into a firefight in the capital which quickly spread into another phase of the civil war. Machar again fled for his life, undertaking a long march on foot to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), dodging Kiir’s attack helicopters trying to find him. He eventually moved to South Africa.
Endley stayed behind to protect his friend Eden Worku. He was arrested by agents of the feared National Security Service (NSS) on 18 August 2016 and taken to Blue House prison. He calls it an abduction rather than an arrest because no one knew for a while what had happened to him and no charges were laid against him for many months.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, Machar was also in effect imprisoned. He unwittingly became a pawn in a plan hatched by governments in South Sudan’s region, the United States and South Africa, to remove him from South Sudan’s toxic politics in the belief that no peace would be possible with both Kiir and Machar in the ring. And so Machar had to go.
SA agreed to go along with this plan in part because of US pressure, but also because of its prejudice against Machar, Endley claims. He is harsh on John Kerry, then-president Barack Obama’s secretary of state who he believes was the mastermind of this ill-conceived plot.
After trying to return to the region in late 2016, but being blocked at every turn, Machar returned again to South Africa. In November 2016 he was moved to a National Intelligence Service house at Hartebeespoort Dam where he was to spend the next 18 months as an unwilling guest of the South African government. Endley says in May 2018 Machar was moved to another NIS facility, a training centre and workshop close to the Botswana border, apparently for his own safety as his life had been threatened. He was eventually released in June 2018 and later returned to Juba to take up his vice-presidency once again after yet another peace deal.
Endley notes that Machar was given one break from his house arrest – which the South African government never acknowledged as such. From 7 to 14 July 2017 he was taken on an excursion to Cape Town and East London. But Endley says that according to Machar’s chief of protocol, Brigadier General Simon Bangoang Tuong, “this was merely a ruse to get them away from the complex so that the interception and jamming devices in the complex could be upgraded”.
Back in the Blue House, Juba, Endley was dying, he says. He had malaria, complicated by another mysterious complaint. The NSS prison medical authorities were indifferent to his fate and it was only the help of one or two kind fellow prisoners that saved his life.
In South Africa, a Free Will Endley campaign had been launched by his sister Charmaine Quinn. At first, he says, the South African government was uninterested – or worse. He says that Machar’s protocol chief Bangoang told him that a NIS representative called “Dele” (who Endley also refers to as “Bele” and who seems to be the same person referred to as “Dali” in the caption of a photograph of him) told Bangoang that Endley “was a criminal and that they were going to arrest me if I ever returned to South Africa”. In the caption, Endley labels Dali as “an NIS operative working for the Deputy President of South Africa” (Ramaphosa).
Left to rot in jail
It seemed Endley would literally rot in jail until a new South African ambassador to Juba, Gordon Yekelo, was appointed late in 2017. Endley believes Yekelo put pressure on Kiir’s government to bring him to trial and he eventually appeared in court for the first time on 28 December 2017. It was clear from the start though, that the South Sudanese authorities hadn’t intended to try him at all.
The trial was a farce. It began even before charges had been laid against him and in the absence of his lawyer. A Rwandan police expert witness on cybercrimes who had examined his confiscated phone and laptop clearly found nothing incriminating, but nonetheless testified that he had discovered enough evidence of crimes – even though Endley had not yet been charged with anything.
Only on his fifth court appearance was he eventually charged; for entering South Sudan illegally, for espionage, insurgency, terrorism and recruiting and training SPLA-IO fighters against the government. The NSS testified that as senior security consultant to Machar, he bore responsibility for the deaths and damage during the rebellion. It was clear that Kiir’s government simply regarded him as a “white South African mercenary” and therefore guilty by definition.
But his lawyer argued that Machar had hired Endley, not to train his fighters, but to help integrate the various disparate elements of the SPLA into one South Sudanese army under the 2015 peace deal – drawing on his experience of integrating ANC and other liberation fighters and soldiers of the old SA Defence Force into the new SA National Defence Force after 1994. The lawyer also argued that in any case, under the 2015 Arusha peace deal all political prisoners and prisoners of war were supposed to be freed.
The judges were clearly not interested in such legal niceties. They refused to subpoena senior government figures to come to court to testify to the truth about Endley’s role in Machar’s operation. Chief of these was Taban Deng Gai, who had been deputy to Machar in the SPLM-IO, but who later switched sides to become first vice president to Kiir after Machar had been sidelined and detained in South Africa.
And so Endley was duly convicted of all charges and on 23 February 2018 sentenced to death by hanging, to be preceded, bizarrely, by an effective nine years in prison.
Taban Deng Gai is a key player in Endley’s account, not only of his own ordeal, but also of relations between Juba and South Africa – particularly Ramaphosa – and of South Sudan’s own turbulent history of that time. He is convinced that Taban Deng Gai, “a master of betrayal and deceit”, was instrumental in his own imprisonment, conviction and sentencing, perhaps because of his animosity to Machar.
Murky dealings and dirty oil
Endley also believes Taban Deng Gai was Ramaphosa’s main ally in his mediation and the facilitator in a murky oil deal which Radebe signed with South Sudan. Taban Deng Gai, after displacing Machar as vice president, got his “lackey” Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth installed as petroleum minister. He notes that Taban Deng Gai had made his personal fortune from oil as a state governor and wished to continue tapping the oil bonanza.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa shifted his brother-in-law Radebe from the presidency to the energy portfolio on 26 February 2018 just as Zuma was ousted as president.
“The stage was set for the likes of Ramaphosa and Taban Deng Gai to make their moves into the lucrative oil fields of South Sudan for their personal interests,” Endley claims, recalling how Radebe had signed an MOU with Gatkuoth in November 2018 for a $1-billion South African investment into South Sudan’s block 2, which included exploration and production rights and the construction of an oil refinery.
The Sunday Times reported in March 2019 that Radebe had signed the deal despite the disapproval of the Central Energy Fund and the Treasury and without Cabinet approval. It later reported that Radebe and rushed to sign a final agreement on the deal with Gatkuoth just two days before South Africa’s 8 May 2019 general elections and just weeks before Ramaphosa dropped Radebe from the Cabinet on 29 May.
Endley asks: “Is the known friendship and shared interests between Taban Deng Gai and Cyril Ramaphosa the main reason behind the house arrest of Machar and my incarceration? Only time will tell.”
He also slates other links between the ANC government and the SPLM government, including the defence cooperation agreement signed by SA defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her South Sudanese counterpart Lieutenant-General Kuol Manyang Juuk in Juba on 30 January 2018. Endley expresses his dismay at Mapisa-Nqakula being “upbeat and positive about working with a military force facing the wrath of the international community for atrocities, war crimes and acts against humanity…” This deal had given Kiir “moral support” to continue these “crimes against humanity” with total impunity.
Endley writes that South Africa justified its close involvement in South Sudan on the basis of a history of liberation movement solidarity and mutual support between the ANC and the SPLM. He dismisses this as a “false narrative” as he says the SPLM was only formed in 1983 and so could hardly have played much of a part in the ANC’s liberation struggle – or vice versa.
He believes the personal interests of some ANC members overshadowed any historical fraternity between the two parties – and also overshadowed South Africa’s national interests in the conflict.
Though Endley acknowledges that the South African government grew more interested in his case as time passed and helped pass on food parcels, money and medicine, he believes it was Machar and his wife Angelina Teny who saved his life and got him freed. While Machar was stuck in South Africa, Teny represented him at peace meetings which gave her the opportunity to lobby key regional governments such as Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia for Endley’s release.
Kiir continued to resist such entreaties, though, because he saw Endley as just a South African mercenary. In the end, it took some brinkmanship by Machar to persuade him. By then Machar had been released by the South Africans and yet another peace deal had been signed in September 2018. Endley said Machar made it a condition of his participation in the transitional government spelt out in this latest agreement that both Endley and Machar’s spokesperson James Gatdet Dak — who had also been condemned to death — should be spared and freed.
Eventually, in a speech on 31 October 2018, celebrating the peace deal, Kiir announced – grudgingly it seemed – that both men would be freed, to advance the peace process. Endley was released two days later and returned to South Africa.
Looking back, he believes that South Africa’s decision to keep Machar out of South Sudan politics by keeping him under house arrest was a “strategic blunder that was detrimental to the stability of the region and the continent as a whole” – and prolonged and intensified the conflict. This is a view shared by many analysts and seems to be borne out by the facts. The 2018 peace deal which Machar signed and his return to Juba as vice president in the transitional government appear to have given South Sudan at least a sporting chance of peace, though that is far from assured.
Endley also believes it was the departure of the Obama administration– and especially Kerry – which made peace possible. The Trump administration has been much tougher on Kiir’s government, including enforcing arms embargoes and sanctions, he says. And that seems to have restored the balance in relations between Kiir and Machar and laid the basis for a mutual agreement. DM
Editor’s note: Daily Maverick approached both the presidency and Radebe for comment on the allegations in the book. Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale declined comment. At the time of publication, Radebe had not responded to a Whatsapp request sent on 2 October, 2020.
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