‘Smuggled gift links mission to SADF’

By Megan Powers

A South African Defence Force printing press, worth more than R2-million and destined to be a “gift” for the new Swapo-led government in Namibia in 1989, was allegedly smuggled out the country by a military intelligence officer and given to a controversial mission station in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The latest revelation linking the Kwasizabantu mission to the military, follows a Tribune report last week that alleged the mission had doubled as an anti-liberation agency in the 1980s and early 1990s, assisting military intelligence and the security police. The mission has consistently denied the allegations.

The obtaining of the printing press is among a barrage of fresh allegations levelled at the mission’s spiritual leader, Erlo Stegen, and several of his co-leaders including missionaries Kjell Olsen and Fano Sibiso.

This week, the mission’s first Afrikaans pastor, Koos Greef, who joined Kwasizabantu in 1977 and was recruited by apartheid security structures a few years later, confessed to the leading role he – and many of the mission’s leadership – played in clandestine activities.

Greef claims his main handler was Colonel Tobie Vermaak, a military intelligence officer who he said reported directly to Brigadier Ferdie van Wyk, the former director of the Command Communications section of army intelligence. Van Wyk was one of at least 20 senior SADF officers axed by FW de Klerk in 1992 on the strength an investigation into alleged MI dirty tricks. Vermaak was also “put on pension” in 1992.

Greef, who is now a part-time minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, said: “Namibia was moving towards independence and Vermaak told me there was a very good printing press that belonged to the SADF and was used at military headquarters in Windhoek. He said the South African government had decided to leave it there as a sort of gift to the Namibian government, but that if we could raise money to get it removed, we could take it,” said Greef.

“Rev Stegen agreed and Tobie made arrangements with a private removal company to transport the press to Kwasizabantu. Stegen paid about R60 000 for the removal.

“We started a printing company at Kwasizabantu and I gave instructions to the staff at that time to remove all army indentifications,” said Greef. The press is now known as Mkhanya Press and is allegedly still used to publish mission material.

Greef said the mission’s close links with the military included a meeting between Stegen, Vermaak and Van Wyk at military headquarters and the establishment of a reaction group called Group 8 which was supplied with weapons from the nearby Umvoti commando and operated under its jurisdiction. By 1991, the highly-trained group had been given R90 000 by Stegen to buy firearms and other expensive equipment, he said.

Greef has also implicated Stegen, Olsen and Sibiso in so-called “outreach programmes” to Namibia to preach the “status quo”. Some of these trips were allegedly funded by the military through Vermaak, and military transport was used, with the stated intention of influencing the outcome of the Namibian elections. Van Wyk was reportedly in charge of the SADF’s campaign to discredit Swapo before the 1989 Namibian elections.

“Over a period, I received about R260 000 from Vermaak for the Namibian work. He told me how to get this money “legally” into my bank account. I would drive to any rich member of the KSB congregation and ask if they would be prepared to give me a cheque in exchange for cash. I kept the amounts below R20 000,” he said. Two vehicles were also bought with this money.

Greef fled the mission at the end of 1993. “It was wrong of me to become so involved. I am a minister and I brought dishonour to the name of my Lord and in doing so hurt His people,” he said. “It’s upsetting that the mission leadership continue to deny what they did. They need to join me in repenting for what we were all responsible for during those years. They, at least, owe the truth to their thousands of followers and to Christians everywhere,” said Greef.

Vermaak denied Greef’s allegations regarding the printing press. He confirmed the meeting at military headquarters with Van Wyk but said it was a “normal intelligence briefing” for a German professor. The professor subsequently wrote a booklet detailing acts of terrorist violence in South Africa.

He said newspapers were ignoring the good done by the mission and the defence force and were “lapping up” untrue allegations from an “embittered” man.

Stegen could not be reached for comment but a press release from him earlier this week stated that many of the harsh criticisms in the press “are not just aimed at KSB but the church in general”.

“There will probably be an escalation of such attacks and a strong effort to brand outspoken churches and Christian organisations as ‘right wing’ or ‘fundamentalist’.”