Berend Schuitemma 2011 discussing with ex-mineworkers and families (above)
(Excerpted & translated from "Aan het goede Kant", PhD thesis of Roland Muskens, Amsterdam September 2013. No permission asked as all the information about me has never been confirmed with me. Obviously there are some serious misrepresentations, but basically the story is correct)
Okhela and the fall 0f Berend Schuitema
Okhela was the resistance organization in which white South African exiles wished to engage in the struggle against Apartheid, and to mobilize white progressive within South Africa. The organization was the brainchild of Breyten Breytenbach and Johnny Makatini, an ex-boxer and representative of the ANC for North Africa. Also Oliver Tambo, the top man of the ANC, knew about and supported the Okhela initiative.
Oliver Tambo’s biographer, Luli Callinicos, describes the links Tambo, Makatini and Breytenbach. Tambo as well as Makatini were proponents for the ANC being a broad-based, pragmatic movement with the options of cooperation with all possible opponents of Apartheid. Makatini was above all interested in contacts with the ‘new left’ movement that became influential in Europe and America during its widespread opposition to the Vietnam War. With this Tambo and Makatini stood against the SACP who were first and foremost interested in working with the Soviet Union and its satellite states. “Johnny had many bed partners which benefited the ANC”, Callinicos quotes Neo Moikangoa the personal assistant of Tambo as saying. Callinicos describes a winters night in 1972 in Paris when Tambo, on initiative of Makatini, met with Breytenbach. Breytenbach offered to mobilize the Afrikaner intelligentsia to support the ANC. According to Breytenbach, whites were also victims of Apartheid.
Through his Dutch publisher, Rob van Gennep, Breytenbach came in contact with an editor, Jacques Meerman who was also an activist with the AABN. Meerman: “Breyten came to the publisher and Rob said: you must meet someone, who is with the AABN”. In her book, Bokslagter, Connie Braam quotes Berend Schuitema about his meeting with Breytenbach. “’When there was a call at the door of the Anne Frank House, I moved to the window of my attic office. Below on the gracht pavement was Jacques Meerman with a tall guy. It seemed to me a South American, elegantly clothed, a sort of playboy. When they came into my office after a long climb up the three floors of stairs, Jacques introduced our visitor: Breyten Breytenbach, the renowned Afrikaner poet and artist. Of course I knew the name but I never met him or ever saw a photo of him. I found him a strange figure, with long hair and a golden ring in his hair. Of course we all had long hair - there was nothing unusual about that. But his elegance and suave he made an odd impression of some eccentric middle class professional. He sank into an easy chair and lit his pipe. I must honestly say I was confused. Such a South African I had never met before. ‘”
In the days that followed Breyten win Schuitema as a member of the organization, Okhela (“Okhela” – spark in isiZulu), a white resistance organization in the struggle against Apartheid. According to Breytenbach, Okhela resorted under the wing of the ANC but not aligned with the SACP. The idea behind the separation between the ANC and the SACP was that the first step for many whites would be too drastic and radical to fight on the side of black South Africans. Meerman: “We found the story of Breyten credible. We decided that the AABN would give support to Okhela”.
Following Breyten, Schuitema, Braam and Meerman entered an underground world where they came in contact with representatives of resistance movements from all over the world. Central in this network stood the Egyptian Jewish exile, Henri Curiel. During the Second World War as well as in the Algerian national liberation war Curiel did underground solidarity work. The knowledge and experiences he had gained from these he now made available to liberation movements such as the ANC, SWAPO, Frelimo, the Rhodesian liberation movements, as well as to anti-fascist fighters in Greece, Spain, Portugal and the resistance in Chili against the Pinochet regime. An accusation made by the French journal Le Point that Curiel also supported and had links with the Red Army Faction (so-called Baader Meinhof group), and the Italian Red Brigades, was investigated by French and found to be untrue.
Curiel founded Solidarite as a sort of service- and training bureau for liberation movements throughout the world. This involved surveillance techniques, coding of messages, use of invisible inks, use of arms and explosives and reading of military maps, et cetera. Also designing political propaganda projects and mobile printing were in the training offered by Solidarite. Curiel also provided false passports and other documents. Curiel had many ANC members under his tutelage. In 1978v Curiel was assassinated at the doorstep of his Paris apartment by two members of a sinister group calling itself “Delta”. This crime was never solved but according to one theory the South African intelligence service BOSS was involved.
Also members of the AABN received training, according to Meerman: “Connie, Berend and I were taught coding of messages”. Soon Okhela – assisted by Meerman, Braam and Schuitema - sent people illegally to South Africa and the frontline states to establish contacts and pass through information and material. In this way Berend Schuitema himself went to South Africa illegally in 1974. Meerman: “On his first trip Berend had to pass money through to SWAPO. We gave him the role of an inspector of the Dutch ANWB, a tourist organization, to check hotels in South Africa. We even wrote a fake introduction letter on ANWB letterhead. Berend went in with the passport of Professor Waterbolk of the Archaeology department of the University of Groningen. This passport was pinched by his son who was active with us. Waterbolk was later furious about this”.
With the Okhela initiative the AABN found itself on the borderline of solidarity. The paramilitary training of different members of the AABN in Paris indicated that they were prepared to play a role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa itself. For Schuitema in particular this step was not far off. This was not unique within the Dutch activist world. During the 70s there were numerous groups of activists who did not shun armed struggle within their own society or elsewhere. Terrorist groups like the Red Army Fraction (RAF) also found support in the Netherlands in small dedicated groups. And in larger circle while not getting active support, the RAF found understanding for its motivations for its radical approach. There were cells of activists in the Netherlands lending logistical or material support to foreign resistance movements and terrorist groups. To choose for violence – real or only in word – did not necessarily result in political isolation during the 1970s.
The regular absences of Schuitema for sometimes extended periods started raising frustrations in the AABN office. He was getting more deeply involved in Okhela activities. Ton Korver: “During those years Berend was often away without him giving a reasonable explanation to his AABN comrades. He defended his activities with mention of names like Johnny Makatini or Frene Ginwala (a South African exile and later speaker of the democratic parliament), and indicated that he was in ANC camps in Algiers and Tanzania”. Kier Schuringa: “I knew that he was in South Africa. Okhela security was simply bad. That due also to Berend being surrounded by a veil of secrecy, one always sought for reasons for this. Apart from Braam and Meerman, who also involved in Okhela, nobody knew the finer details for the absences of Schuitema. Korver knew about Okhela, but what exactly Schuitema was doing was not clear.
Meanwhile the contacts between the AABN and the ANC were firming up. The ANC realized that with the AABN they had a solid and meaningful ally in the Netherlands. The first action of the AABN disrupting a South African Springbok skimming tournament had the support of the ANC. But after the sensational exposures on the breaking of sanctions against Rhodesia it was impossible for the Dutch solidarity movement to lose its impressive status and recognition it had gained.
What stuck in the crop of Meerman was the fact that Okhela was not allowed to be mentioned in discussions with members of the ANC. During that period the PAC also progressively played a bigger role. And there were discussions over the role of the SACP. The last thing that the AABN wanted was to become party to internal ANC affairs. We did not want to jeopardize the good relations with the ANC. Connie and I then went to London and told about Okhela and what we did. Reg September and Duma Nokwe appeared to know nothing about Okhela. Connie Braam and Jacques Meerman were told that the ANC – in any case an important part of the liberation movement were not happy about Okhela and radically opposed to the initiative. Particularly the given of an exclusively white organization linked to the ANC raised serious questions and seen as contradictory to the principle of non-racialism was confirmed in the so-called Morogoro Conference as guiding principle of the ANC. During this conference the SACP strengthened its position within the ANC at the expense of the so-called African Nationalists. In particular the most important ANC contact person for Braam in London, SACP member Reg September, was a confessed opponent of nay form of racial grouping within the ANC. For a minority of ANC top figures, among whom presumably the head of the movement, Oliver Tambo, were of the opinion that the ANC did not have to define its relationship to a group like Okhela and that there was no need for a formal rejection.
In London the issue boiled over and tempers flared: during a large meeting finally 8 members of the African Nationalist group, the so-called “Gang of Eight”, all prominent members of the ANC National Executive Committee, we expelled from the ANC. Remarkable was that Johnny Makatini, the brain behind Okhela, was not expelled. Makatini was even given a “promotion” to ANC representative in New York. Schuitema regarded the visit of Braam to London as a stab in the back. Hereby she definitely did not choose his side. Their personal relationship – which for other reasons already was under pressure – was offered to ideology. The theory that the ANC in London betrayed the unwelcome Okhela to BOSS was persistent during this time. There is no doubt though that ANC-London – or rather the SACP-London – wished Okhela gone rather than not. Concrete evidence for this theory is however absent. According to Braam it is nonsense: “the story that I had informed the SACP and that they informed BOSS, came out of the stewpot of Berend, he helped the story into the world out of anger. Anger at me”.
Connie Braam was on holiday in Ibiza when she received a telegram that Breyten Breytenbach was arrested in South Africa on the 19th August, 1975. The South African secret police appeared to have followed Breytenbach during his entire stay in South Africa. Berend Schuitema who was in South Africa during the same time, managed to jump free of the police net. On foot he fled to Botswana and further back to the Netherlands. Immediately after his return furious discussions broke out about Schuitema’s involvement with Okhela. The dissention divided the AABN in two camps: camp Braam and camp Schuitema. “For Schuitema this was traumatic. He could be enormously charming and friendly, but also hard as hell and frightening. When things went awry with his return he threatened people. He took me to task that I chose the other side. He was seriously intimidating. I found it difficult to choose but I found the position of Connie simply better.
Kier Schuringa watched the unfolding drama with amazement. Everything played: ideology, friendship, love, sex”. The affair immobilized the AABN, Schuringa said. The members of the AABN and activists at large could not speak about anything else. To the outside world those involved kept tight lipped. Fulco van Aurich who was just engaged as spokesperson of the AABN: “As a newcomer I understood nothing of what was going on. I never saw Berend before. Once he spoke to me because he felt that I was one-sidedly influenced by Connie. With that I could do nothing. I went with my intuition and a double role Berend played did not seem good to me”.
Also with the ANC the conflict in the AABN was disturbing. The AABN was important to the ANC; it had grown into one of the most powerful solidarity movements for the ANC in the world, maybe even the most the largest. To save what could be saved “London” sent over two mediators to help resolve the split in November 1975: Johnny Makatini and Duma Nokwe. Eventually the two mediators could do nothing but concede that both sides stood irreconcilably opposed to one another. In pure numeric terms it was clear that Schuitema had the disadvantage, as appeared during a plenary meeting of the movement’s members. Jacques Meerman and Fulco van Aurich mobilized as many activists as possible. In total there were about 40 packed into office at the back of the H88. Berend was not present. Tambo and Makatini sat behind the table making every attempt at appeasement. Especially Tambo (Meerman means Nokwe, RM) wished above all a show of unity between. Also Makatini. At stake was the appearance of division between the ANC and the Dutch movement, the public and body politic.” But for the AABN members it was too late: the split was irreconcilable. Later in a special board meeting it was decided to inform Schuitema of this decision. Apart from the Board members, present also were Connie Braam and Pim Juffermans. Pim Juffermans looks back: “I was incidentally seated between Connie and Berend. The Board still wished to mediate, but that was no longer possible. When it became clear to Berend that he was going to lose he first wanted to get at Connie but because I was between them I got the punch. Then he left the room furiously, kicking garbage bins into the gracht. Through the window I saw him walk up the street. That is the last I saw of him or ten years”.
After this Berend tried to find “accommodation” with the Angola Committee (later renamed the KZA) of Sietse Bosgra. Sietse writes about this: “But, for the KZA the underlying causes for the conflict were unclear and it feared that there could be repercussions with the AABN and the ANC’s London office. The proposal was thus turned down and a disappointed Schuitema left the Netherlands for good.
The AABN Board was divided over the matter. It led to the departure of the Chairperson, Dr. Piet van Andel, and Ton Korver. After the affair the staff at the office of the AABN played a progressively more important role. The Board of the movement withered in the background. Ton Korver: “The office, that was Connie. She was cut out for this: she knew how to involve people in the AABN, to bind them to the organization and mobilize volunteers. Berend could do this as well, but he was much heavier and hands on. With Connie there was always something light hearted”
Many observers outside of the AABN saw these developments as part of a power struggle between communists and non-communists, fed by a similar struggle within the ANC. Connie Braam rejects this analysis. Stronger, according to Braam the conflict was fuelled by people who wished to see in the conflict a communist coup. “If emotions were calmer and there were no forces working from outside, then we still could have saved the situation. But there were too many people active who wanted to polarize matters. A number of journalists speculated that the conflict involved communists and non-communists. Speculation was what Jacques and I wanted to take over power. Cees Gloudemans wrote pages full in the Volkskrant.”
Another journalist who took the theory seriously was Rudie Kagie of the Nieuwe Linie. On the 25th of February of 1976 he wrote that the AABN was annexed by communists and that the “last two non-communists of the Anti-Apartheid Movement – the chairperson Piet van Andel and founding Secretary Berend Schuitema – [..] were recently forced to resign. Kagie quotes in the same article Piet van Andel: When the firing of some staff members was about to happen, the District Committee of the CPN interfered. That I found strange. I never realized that everyone working in the office were members of the CPN. This did interest me as long as they did their work well.” About the “pleno”, and where according to Kagie, the expulsion of Schuitema was talked about, van Andel tells: “At this plenary meeting all of a sudden everyone from the Medical Committee Angola were present. I could not figure out where they suddenly came from; but it appears that for this special occasion they were allowed to fully participate and vote.”
The article got a furious response from van Andel’s successor, Jaap de Visser, and the Chairperson of the Medical Committee Angola, Henk Odink: “We are deeply disheartened that we, apart from in a well- known morning newspaper, seldom in such a short period of time come across so many pertinent lies”, they wrote in an undated and unpublished letter to the Editor of the Nieuwe Linie. In this letter they suggested that the article of Kagie “in form and content could be localized. Those who followed the South African press over the past time know that a campaign has been waged in which attacks on diverse solidarity committees were combined with attacks on communism. This is of course no coincidence: now that the former Portuguese colonies fought for their independence and the freedom of Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa coming in sight, the white fascists in Pretoria and their imperialist puppets in Washington, Bonn, Den Haag etcetera are getting consistently more uphill from the constantly better organized solidarity committees abroad. Also Mr. Kagie finds it important to lay his own bit in this.”
Ton Korver confirms that the conflict in the AABN indeed became subject for discussion at the District Committee of the CPN, but not in the sphere sketched by Kagie. Korver: “Ahead of the large meeting taking place where everything would be discussed, all members of the CPN in the AABN were convened for a meeting by Roel Walraven (the Amsterdam Chairperson of the CPN and currently a municipal councilor). Roel had one message for them: The CPN members have to toe one line. That meant that the minority had to abide by the position of the majority. That of course I did not do. Roel was simply very unhappy with the whole situation. But according to Braam it was Ton Korver himself who brought the matter to the CPN’s attention: “Walraven had no wish to get him or the CPN involved. He said – ‘if you cannot stop with that arguing, then I will throw you all out of the Party’”
Given the little interest that the CPN had until then in South Africa and the struggle against Apartheid, it does not seem as if the AABN affair was any part of a CPN conspiracy to engineer a ‘takeover of power’. It is in any case clear that the camps within the CPN were drawn on party political lines as Ton Korver could not identify himself with the position of party comrade Braam. The same for Wil Pas, also a CPN member but staunch supporter of Schuitema. At the same time non-communists like vice Chairperson Jaap de Visser of the Dutch Labor Party and the nonparty affiliated treasurer Ijsbrand Dijkstra found themselves in the camp Braam. Kier Schuringa’s analysis: “The conflict was not ideological, but the CPN question definitely played a role. Connie and Jacques Meerman, both members of the CPN, they played the most important roles.
Schuitema was never able to fully get away from the odor of a spy, a traitor. Many people are convinced that he betrayed Okhela, or worse, that he was active for the South African Secret Service BOSS. One of these people was Breyten Breytenbach. In an interview Breyten said: “Later he (Schuitema) admitted that at a certain stage to have worked with the South African Police. He claimed to have done this to gain leverage over the SACP within the ANC and also within the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the Netherlands. It sounds a bit naïve, hey? I can only say what I myself heard while in jail – and this brings us to the chapter of manipulation – that Schuitema was actively an agent of the South African government. What I do know is that friends of mine in South Africa instituted and investigation after my arrest and for this purpose sent someone to Europe, and this person came back to South Africa and reported with the conviction that it was Schuitema who betrayed me.”
On the 2nd of February 1980 the South African Sunday Times appeared with fat chocolate letter: ‘Another Spy Confesses’. This was shortly after the South African police spy Captain Craig Williamson admitted that for years he had infiltrated as Deputy Director of the University Exchange Fund in Geneva which was waging a powerful anti-Apartheid policy. In the Sunday Times Schuitema denied that betrayed Breytenbach, but: “I admit that I passed on information to the South African Police, but that was only from 1978 onwards. According to this scenario Schuitema must indeed have been arrested during his illegal visit to South Africa and made, to buy his freedom, a deal with the security service and since then briefed information about the opposition to the “enemy”.
The question is how much value must be attached to these “confessions” of Schuitema. After Okhela Schuitema was confused, traumatized, lonely and desperately looking for personal political support. It is also possible that he sought support from those he had previously fought so hard. Breyten Breytenbach writes in his book ‘Confessions’: “It is the British intelligence service Schuitema says nowadays, which at the time which organized the hunt on him and which used the Black Consciousness Movement as camouflage to keep back the revolution to expand its imperialist influence in South Africa. The only solution he says is that we as Afrikaner nationalists stand against this. Spy? Tragic fool? One thing is for sure: in this filthy game he is a broken pawn.”
In an interview in The New Yorker of 8th November 1993 Breyten states that he simply does not know who betrayed the mission. “I never really found out”, he said sighing. He went on to list people who would have known of his coming movement – “Makatini, Curiel, Schuitema, Schuitema’s girlfriend (Connie Braam) – any of whom might conceivably have been working for BOSS, or, more likely, for the London ANC which would have had a motive itself to betray this upstart organization of independent activists to BOSS. ‘And who knows? Maybe there weren’t any finks as such – maybe nobody intentionally betrayed anyone. Maybe they – the BOSS and the others – were just damn good at what they do, and had us under good, solid surveillance the entire time. Or maybe we just got sloppy and inadvertently screwed things up.’”
That Breytenbach himself went about his mission to South Africa in a most sloppy and reckless manner and showed total disregard for what he had been taught by his lessons and warnings at Solidarite is beyond question. In “Confessions” Breytenbach sketches how his mission was doomed from the very beginning onwards. The biggest blunder was undoubtedly that the poet flirted with and later, once in Johannesburg, started a relationship with an SAL air stewardess, Anna van Niekerk. (According to some sources she was Ana van Schalkwyk.) Then already it was known that many SAL stewardesses were recruited by BOSS for regular debriefings on flight passengers. Later Anna van Niekerk married Cloete Breytenbach, the brother of the poet. The AABN received a letter from Andre Brink in which he unpacked how irresponsible Breytenbach had behaved himself while in South Africa. Apart from the blunder with the air hostess, once he landed in Johannesburg he called all his acquaintances and friends telling them that he was in South Africa.
Breytenbach could complete his whole mission and was only arrested once he was about to board his plane back to Europe. He knew by then that BOSS was at his heels. The people with whom he had contacted and visited in the weeks before were all arrested and rounded up. While in detention and at his trial that followed, Breytenbach blamed himself and openly apologized for his deeds and even offered his personal apologies to Prime Minister Vorster for an insulting poem he had written about Vorster. Despite this humiliating groveling the poet was sentenced to nine years in prison, of which he served seven before being released in 1982.
After his arrest a support committee was established for Breytenbach in which publishers Rob van Gennep and Laurence van Krevelen were the driving forces. Adriaan van Dis as well as Aad Nuis was also active in the Breytenbach Committee. The existing Anti-Apartheid originations kept their distance and had no contact. Aad Nuis commented: “When after his arrest a support committee was formed there was a lot of response from private people but markedly little from organizations which had good connections with the official resistance. The reason for this was varied from vague insinuations – which still left spoors today in surprising places – to arguments that people should not bother with the lot of a single white while so many blacks suffered more and are worse off.”
The position of the ANC on Breytenbach and Okhela stuck in the crop of Adriaan van Dis. In an interview with Ischa Meijer van Dis said: “When Breyten Breytenbach was arrested I was confronted with the reality of what it meant to wage political struggle and proper journalistic reporting. Breytenbach was working with members of the ANC at high level. I know this because I was with him. I was also part of Breytenbach’s illegal group. I attended meetings in Normandy together with one person who was a member of the ANC National Executive. When Breytenbach was arrested the ANC denied that he had anything to do with the ANC. That I could initially understand and accept because afterall it was compromising for the ANC and for Breytenbach if the ANC had positioned itself otherwise. But once he was in prison the ANC turned its back on him and let him rot for seven years. That I hold against them.”
Meulenhoff decided while Breytenbach was in jail to publish his collected work. Especially the book “A season in Paradise’ was well received by the Dutch public and went into five editions. After his release from prison Breytenbach visited the Netherlands on numerous occasions and the political activities and work of the poet got ample coverage in the Dutch press.
Another journalist who was involved with Schuitema during the time of the affair was the freelancer Wiecher Hulst who published in the Haagse Post. Hulst developed a friendship with Schuitema but still, in his first reactions when looking back he Says: “Schuitema betrayed the movement”. Nevertheless he maintained contact with Schuitema after the stormy meetings in the AABN: “Berend went to ground. He was accused of treachery. Now and then he unexpectedly stood at my doorstep, unkempt and a long beard: a sort of drifting Karl Marx. Often he came to ask for money. He did not have a cent. At that time he gave met Okhela publications. These he had written himself; confused texts; this while he was always so bright.” Hulst further has no concrete proof for his conviction that Berend betrayed Breyten. “Berend himself was unclear about this; he once said, ‘if I was playing a double game then it was unwitting’. Cees Gloudemans of the Volkskrant was on the other hand convinced of Berend’s betrayal of Breytenbach. Berend told that he was visiting Adriaan van Dis when Gloudemans rang the doorbell. Berend then hid away in a cupboard and only came out once Gloudemans was away.”
After the Okhela affaire the AABN was on the ropes for a considerable number of years. On the 30th August 1977 Kier Schuringa wrote and internal memo. “As I see it, the functioning of the movement is characterized by the almost total lack of structured discussion to determine the political line of the movement, with regard developments inside South Africa and the situation in the Netherlands”. Schuringa listed six factors which resulted on the incapacity of the AABN:
fi firstly, the political situation in the Netherlands;
- secondly the diplomatic offensive of Western countries regarding South Africa;
- thirdly the repression and propaganda campaign against the ANC in South Africa;
- fourthly the cooperation potential with the Medical Committee Angola;
- fifthly the changing situation of the Angola Committee, and in less degree, of the BOA;
- And sixthly, the Lack of new action initiatives.
Schuringa concluded: “the continuance of these 6 factors will have serious consequences for the position of the AABN. This is not to say that with the persistence of this situation in the next year or two that we will find ourselves in the margins of South African events”