Rhodesia sabotage plot revealed / Guardian, Monday September 25 1978
Rhodesia sabotage plot revealed
Guardian, Monday September 25 1978
A quarrel has broken out among South African revolutionaries, which gives some insight into the origins of the present row about Rhodesian sanctions busting by Western oil companies.
The latest development in the quarrel is the circulation of discussion papers among anti apartheid activists, detailing a project three years ago to blow up the Beit Bridge, the crucial rail and road link spanning the Limpopo River between South Africa and Rhodesia.
The sabotage attempt and disclosures which led to the present sanctions row, date back to 1973-74 when a group of individuals in the Dutch Anti Apartheid Movement exposed two major Rhodesian sanctions-busting operations, one selling large quantities of Rhodesian tobacco in Europe, and the other involving an Amsterdam agency organizing trade between Rhodesia, Western and Communist countries.
Individuals in the Dutch Anti Apartheid Movement responsible for the fairly sophisticated acts of espionage which led to the sanctions-busting exposures were also members of, or connected with, a secret organization called Okhela based in Paris.
Led by an Afrikaans poet, Breyten Breytenbach, Okhela was a revolutionary action group of white South Africans who claim to be working unofficially under the aegis of South Africas main national liberation organization, the ANC. The ANC, however, has denied Okhelas claim that its people worked with the knowledge and assistance of two members of the ANCs Revolutionary Council, including its President, Mr. Oliver Tambo.
As a result of their earlier sanctions-busting work, Okhela was introduced in 1975 to a contact whose cover name was Cecil. He gave them access to documents showing that Western oil companies were pouring oil into Rhodesia through South Africa and Mozambique.
Instead of publishing their findings and relying on Western governments to take action against the companies involved Okhela decided to press ahead with a plot to blow up Beit Bridge.
According to one plotter involved, the sabotage (codenamed Project Albert) was prepared in Algeria. Okhela sent a Dutch civil engineer to survey the bridge, and work out how it could best be destroyed.
But the project was repeatedly delayed, allegedly because of political problems within the ANC, and finally abandoned after Okhelas leader, Breytenbach, was captured by the security police while on a secret mission into South Africa during August 1975.
Breytenbach was tried under the Terrorism Act, confessed, made a groveling apology, and was goaled for nine years. The trial discredited Okhela and the groups links with the ANC were broken.
Okhela tried to salvage something from Project Albert by publishing the oil documents. They handed them over to the United Church of Christ in America, a body with which one of the members of Okhela had close connections. The church engaged a young British economist, Bernard Rivers who had been conducting his own research into sanctions busting to edit it. The documents were published in a report entitled the Oil Conspiracy.
The report related mainly to Mobil, but it also compromised the other big oil companies.
Dr. Rivers, joined by another British economist, Dr. Martin Bailey, continued the fight to expose the oil companies with some effective lobbying, publicity and investigative work. They were helped by Mr. Tiny Rowland, head of Lonrho.
While the present political storm over oil sanctions, resulting from their efforts, would appear to represent a belated triumph for the original initiative the organization, or what remained of it, is bitter the way the affair developed.
This is reflected in discussion papers now in circulation which contain angry attacks on the ANC and South African Communist Party, accused of having repeatedly sabotaged Okhela projects.