The mission that failed
At 9.30 p.m. on Thursday 15 February 1979 I was having dinner, alone, in the Holiday Inn in Umtata, the capital of Transkei. It had been, for me, a depressing day: earlier, my friend, Jimmy Skinner, the managing director of the Transkei Development Corporation had been arrested by the Transkei Security Police and deported to South Africa.
While I was eating my dinner a waiter came to my table to tell me that two people were waiting to see me. I asked him to tell one of them to come to my table, My visitor turned out to be an officer of the Transkei Security Police. He told me that he and his colleague wished to talk to me. I sensed something unusual was about to happen and was determined to remain calm. 'I do not see people without prior appointment', I said severely. 'As you see. I am in the middle of dinner, you will have to wait in the reception area for about half an hour.' He received the news politely, almost deferentially. As there were many others dining in the restaurant. 1 calculated that I would not be removed by force. I was correct in this assumption.
I invited one of the assistant managers, a young Dutchman. to join my table and I ordered a brandy for each of us. I told him that I thought that the Security Police had probably come to arrest me and I asked him to be by the reception desk when I greeted them. To keep them waiting still further, and. because I felt that I might need it, ordered another brandy.
Eventually. I signed my bill and strolled into the reception area, where the policeman who had come to my table and his colleague were waiting. Both were in plain clothes. 'Well, Gentlemen, what can I do for you?' I asked. One of them produced a warrant for my arrest on grounds of fraud. It appeared to be a valid document. The signature was an illegible scrawl but under it there was an official stamp which read 'Assistant Commissioner of Police, Umtata'. The charge was ridiculous. As Transkei's Overseas Diplomatic Representative, the only funds which came to me were a fixed quarterly payment for my services and for running a small office in London. If I travelled overseas, which 1 did frequently, my journeys had to receive the prior authorisation of the Prime Minister, Paramount Chief Kaiser Matanzima, I said. 'This charge is absurd. What do you want me to do?' One of the Security Police Officers replied, 'You must come with us to the charge office.' I replied that I had no intention of doing this, but that I proposed to return to my bedroom to telephone the Prime Minister and ask him for an explanation, The Security Police Officers became somewhat menacing. 'So you refuse to come with us?' If you intend to take me to the charge office you will have to go back and get reinforcements', was my rejoinder. At this point they left me. I felt that it would be undignified if I turned round to see whether they had gone. Suddenly they rushed back into the hotel, seized me and my briefcase and pushed me through the entrance door of the hotel. I had been working on documents which were in my briefcase during dinner, it was unlocked and its contents spilled all over the forecourt of the hotel. 'Get into this car', said the Security Police. 'Not until you have picked up the contents of my briefcase and returned them', I replied. They complied with my wishes.
At this point there were several dozen onlookers, I was ordered to get into a white Datsun car. I heard the voice of my friend, Liston Ntshongwana, shout through the darkness, 'Don't resist, go with them Humphry.' He had arrived on the scene after an urgent telephone call from the assistant manager. I got into the car and as we passed the hotel entrance, I lowered the front passenger window of the car and shouted, 'I call upon everybody to witness that I have been kidnapped by the Transkei Security Police. If! am killed you will know who is responsible.'
As we drove down the hotel drive I noticed that another car moved in behind us. We drove slowly to a remote spot about five miles outside the centre of Umtata. 'The charge office is not in a very central place', I ventured. I received no reply. The car then stopped. I was ordered to get out by the two Security Police Officers. Four other Africans got out of the following car. The six men then proceeded to beat me up. Five of them appeared to have whips but at least one of them must have had a belt with a metal buckle. as the injuries to my head subsequently made clear, I was knocked to the ground several times and once I became unconscious for several seconds after a blow on my head. 'Why don't you kill me?' I shouted at them. 'We are going to kill you'. replied one of my assailants, 'but we will do so in our own way.' I had lost all sense of time, blows came thudding on my body and head. I was picked up several times and then knocked down again.
Eventually the beating stopped. My hands were tied together with a rough piece of wire and I was lifted into the boot of the Datsun car in which I had been driven to the place of my assault. The boot of the ear was slammed shut and the car was driven away,My first sensation was one of relief. The blows which had rained down upon my body had stopped. I ached everywhere. The boot seemed to be remarkably roomy and I managed to wriggle my body into a position which was not too uncomfortable. The wire which held my wrists together was painful and, slowly, I managed to free them.
Slowly I regained my composure, by which time we must have been travelling for about half an hour. While I cannot claim to have lived a very virtuous life, I have been the fortunate recipient of the incomparable gift of religious faith. For many years I have said my prayers daily. and have attended Mass and received Communion each Sun day. I have never said a prayer that has gone unanswered. It did not occur to me to pray that my life might be spared. rather I prayed that God would give me the strength to endure whatever might lie ahead. Before long I was calm and totally without fear: I thought of all those whom I had loved and would never see again. I asked to be forgiven for my many wrongdoings and then in mental tranquility I awaited the end.
After we had travelled for about two hours (my watch was on my wrist and undamaged) the car paused and I heard the driver say, 'police'. At last, I understood the plan. We had crossed the border into South Africa where I was a prohibited person. I was to be shot dead in the darkness and, when my body had been discovered, everybody would have assumed that I had been killed by the South Africans.
Shortly after we had crossed the South African border the car came to a halt on the' side of a tarmac road. The boot was opened and I climbed out. Three Africans faced me. The middle and tallest of them pointed a revolver at me. He said am now going to kill you.' I heard myself say, 'lam not afraid of being killed, but it is very wicked to kill an innocent person. I want you to kneel down and I will ask God to forgive you for what you are about to do.' My Once captors fell to their knees and I made the sign of the Cross over each of them saying 'May God forgive you.' After this they jumped to their feet, the man with the revolver placed it back into his pocket. They got into the Datsun car saying, *You can walk to East London.' I don't know where I am,' I replied. 'Not far from East London', they said as they drove away.
Two or three minutes later a car passed me travelling in the same direction as my kidnappers. I flagged it down. Two white South African men were inside. They gasped when they saw my condition. I explained what had happened and asked to be driven to the nearest police station which was about a mile away in a small village called Komga. I told the officer in charge that I was a prohibited person in South Africa. He replied, 'We can deal with that later. First I will take you to a hospital'. He drove me for less than a quarter of a mile and we reached a small hospital. A night sister was on duty. She washed the blood from my face and hair. A doctor arrived and put five stitches into my head. I was bruised all over He gave me some pain killers and sleeping pills. It was exactly 2 a.m. I did ne. skep since each movement was agonising. 1 Spent the night reflecting on the extraordinary events of the previous 24 hours. I had first visited Transkei nearly 12 months previously, at the invitation of its President, Paramount Chief Kaiser Matanzima, who was at that time the Prime Minister. Previously I knew little of Transkei beyond the fact that it had been given its independence by South Africa in October 1976 and that it had not been recognised by any country, other than South Africa, since the acknowledgment of its independence Was regarded as tantamount to recognising the 'homelands policy' which was the cornerstone of apartheid. I had several private meetings with Chief Kaiser Matanzima, and addressed the members of his Cabinet. I was convinced that the Government of Transkei was totalit, „ „ opposed (as I am) to the wicked Policy of apartheid, since all racial discrimination had been abolished after Transkei had become independent in October 1976, 011 3 April 1978 Chief Kaiser Matanzima decided to break off diplomatic relations With the Republic of South Africa. This was, bY coincidence, the day that I accepted his Offer to become his political advisor. . I accepted Chief Kaiser Matanzima's invitation, and later that of becoming the diplomatic representative for his Government overseas, because I believed that the from assault on apartheid could be launched lioM a genuinely free Transkei possessing, as it did, a sea coast of 200 miles and thus naval possibilities through the construction of a sea port. And, breaking diplomatic links with South Africa, Transkei had demonstrated its political freedom. It was now necessary, however, to demonstrate that Transkei proposed to become economically less dependent on South Africa. The Transkei Development Corporation dominated Transkei. Its Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Franco Maritz, was not only a South African hut he was also a member of the Broederbond, that powerful secret body which governs South Africa. On 18 May I wrote a minute to Chief Matanzima recommending the dismissal of Mr Maritz. I recommended that his place should be taken by Mr James Skinner, a close friend of mine, who had between 1966 and 1970 run the National Development Corporation in Tanzania. Jimmy Skinner was interviewed by Chief Kaiser Matanzima, the Minister of Finance, Mr Letlaka, and the Minister of Commerce, Mr Madikizela on 8 August 1978 and was appointed as managing director of the Transkei Development Corporation by the Transkei Cabinet the following day.
From early in April 1978 I had sensed a feeling of hostility towards me and my appointment on the part of Dr Digby Koyana, the Transkei Foreign Minister. In May I recommended the Prime Minister to abolish the separate portfolio of Foreign Affairs and to become, himself, both Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Matters came to a head in July 1978 when I was in Umtata. Mr Koyana gave interviews to the British and South African Press in London describing me as an impostor. The Prime Minister told me that he intended to accept my advice, and that he would take over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relegate Mr Koyana to the Ministry of Justice. This did not deter Mr Koyana, on his return to Transkei and after he had been informed of the Cabinet changes, from holding a press conference in Umtata on 17 July in which he made further attacks upon me. On 18 July I became the diplomatic representative for the Republic of Transkei, directly responsible to the Prime Minister alone.
I had always believed that, if Transkei was to be recognised internationally, she must first be accepted by her fellow African States. While I kept Dr Owen, the British Foreign Secretary, informed of my activities, both he and I recognised that the first move of acceptance of Transkei must come from Africa.
I had always believed that Nigeria was the key to Transkei's problems. Discussions had taken place with leading Nigerians in London and elsewhere in November. My deputy, Scobie Loblack, had visited Nigeria in the latter part of November and had met leading members of the Supreme Military Council. In January 1979 Mr Liston Ntshongwana, an Assistant Secretary in the Transkei Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visited Nigeria with my deputy after I had held lengthy talks with Nigerian envoys in Lon don earlier in that month. In almost all my travels abroad I had taken Liston Ntshong wana with me. He is an extremely intelligent young man of 30; he was closer to Chief Kaiser Matanzima than most Ministers. We became firm friends and trusted each other completely.
I went to Transkei on 26 January 1979, Liston arrived straight from Nigeria on 31 January. He had met all the members of the Supreme Military Council and many politi cal figures as well. On 4 February an emis sary from Nigeria arrived in Umtata. The following day a Cabinet meeting was called.
The Nigerian Government was, in principle, prepared to make a substantial loan to Transkei; it was prepared to finance a harbour, to train its army and police, and to establish a military presence in Transkei in order to protect it from the possibility of outside aggression. The Prime Minister was enthusiastic. He had been invited to pay a private visit to Nigeria to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. A banquet was held in honour of the Nigerian emissary that evening and a full day of talks was arranged to take place in his office the following day. The Nigerians regarded their offer as a test of Transkei's desire for genuine independence.
When the morning came, Chief Kaiser Matanzima could not be found. It was subsequently discovered that he had driven to East London in South Africa, where he had dismissed his driver and security guard and had disappeared for four hours. We saw him again on 7 February. The meeting was brief and perfunctory. The Nigerian emissary, who left Transkei on 8February, had wasted two days sitting in. the Holiday Inn in Umtata rather than seeing the country as he had been promised.
On 12 February Jimmy Skinner was dismissed as managing director of the Transkei Development Corporation. He had discovered widespread corruption and mismanagement, involving Ministers and white South African officials. When he replied to the Prime Minister's letter of dismissal by pointing out that he could only be removed by his Board he was arrested and deported on 15 February. I have already described my experiences of that night.
As soon as I was discharged from hospital in South Africa on 20 February, I returned to Umtata. I was determined to show that I was not afraid to go back. My reappearance caused considerable surprise. I was asked to call upon the new Prime Minister, Chief George Matanzima, at his official residence and afterwards to call upon Chief Kaiser Matanzima, his elder brother, the new President. Both of them expressed sincere regrets as to what had happened to me, and said that there would be a full enquiry into what had occurred. I gave a sworn statement to two Colonels in the Transkei CID and attended an identity parade on 23 February where I identified the man who had actually pointed his revolver at me on the night of 15-16 February. I left Umtata for London on 23 February having been asked both by the new President and the new Prime Minister to remain as Transkei's overseas diplomatic representative, an invitation which I accepted with some misgivings.
I returned to Umtata on Monday 26 March 1979.Ihad previously had a meeting with Britain's Foreign Secretary, Dr David Owen, who had asked me to put a specific question to Transkei's Prime Minister, Chief George Matanzima. I saw the Prime Minister on 27 March in the presence of Mr Lugabe the Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister's office and Mr Qaba the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I had invariably seen his elder brother, Chief Kaiser Matanzima, when he was Prime Minister, alone. I was very perturbed to receive a telephone call from the Rand Daily Mail on the afternoon of 27 March enquiring about a private meeting that I had held with Dr Owen. Only three people could have given that information to a South African newspaper.
I was even more surprised to see on the afternoon of 28 March the Datsun car, XA 1139, in the hoot of which 1 had travelled to and crossed the South African border on the night of 15-16 February, parked outside the main government building in Umtata. I waited outside the government building and saw the Security PoliceOfficer, whom I had identified, walk to it and drive away in it. demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister the following morning, and again saw him in the presence of the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and the Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I told the Prime Minister that I could no longer take seriously the so-called enquiry that was being held by the Transkei Government into my attempted murder. I, in fact, knew the names and rank of three of my assailants. That evening I gave dinner to Liston Ntshongwana and his wife at the Holiday Inn. I must have been watched during dinner because as soon as I had seen off my guests and returned to my bedroom the telephone immediately rang. The caller would not reveal his identity and, after enquiring about my health, proceeded to say, 'If you do not leave Transkei immediately you will be assassinated.' At this point I telephoned the duty officer at the Foreign Office in Whitehall, Sir Nigel Fisher MP, a personal friend of mine and others. Within a brief period of time I received telephone calls from .Mr Martin Reid, the Minister at the British Embassy in Cape Town and other officers of the Embassy.
The night passed without incident. I spoke to Mr Martin Reid at 7 a.m. on the morning of Friday 30 March and told him that I intended to speak to the Prime Minister of Transkei later in the morning and that I would say to him that if he wanted me to leave Transkei I would leave, if he wanted me to remain, I would stay — but that I would not be driven away by anonymous telephone calls. I duly spoke to the Prime Minister at about 10a.m. and he assured me that I would be safe. I gave the gist of our conversation to the British Embassy in Cape Town.
At noon on 30 March 1 received an urgent call from Martin Reid in Cape Town, who told me that Dr Owen had made a special request for me to leave Umtata, and that this request was made despite the assurances given by the Prime Minister of Transkei, and after the British Government had spoken to the South Africans about the matter at a very high level. At about this time I was also informed by a Transkei civil servant that a friend of his in the Transkei Intelligence Police had told him of a plan that had been made by certain members of the Transkei Security Police (possibly originating at a higher level) to send a group of hired thugs to the Holiday Inn to drag me from my room and beat me to death, and at the same time to make the whole incident look like armed robbery. The Transkei Security Police would then have passed off the original attack on me as being the work of thugs thus, presumably, hoping that they would no longer be implicated in that attack. With great reluctance I decided to leave Umtata on 30 March.
When 1 arrived at my house in Chiswick at about 11.30 a.m. on Saturday 31 March I received a telephone call from my deputy Scobie Loblack. He told me that he had been telephoned at his flat at approximately 6 p.m.the previous evening. Somebody speaking with a South African accent had said to him `Scobie Loblack, we have our tentacles in London. Humphry Berkeley has already been assassinated and you are next on the list.' There seems little doubt that whoever spoke to Scobie Loblack was unaware that I had left Transkei, and that I would have been killed had I remained there on the night of 30 March.
So. my work for Transkei effectively came to an end a year and a day after! first visited the country, and yet it had very nearly succeeded. Kaiser and George Matanzima may be the leaders of their people but in fact they are the servants of South Africa. The government of South Africa had been watching my activities since April 1978 with growing alarm. It decided to strike when the Nigerian offer was made at a time when Transkei was very short of money. The Matanzima brothers may have bought a few years of peace for their country. The payment was made by South Africa to Transkei of 118 million Rand in March 1979. But the people of Transkei will be on the wrong side when the holocaust comes in southern Africa and the Matanzima brothers will be fortunate if, like Amin, they find somewhere to escape from the wrath of their fellow countrymen. There is little doubt that the South African Government has a hold over both of them and that in February 1979 it decided quite unscrupulously to blackmail them. The Matanzima brothers are not stooges, they are cunning ruthless men, but in the Afrikaners who rule South Africa, they have found their match. The people of Transkei must look to other leaders, of whom there are many within Transkei, before they attain true freedom.