(Included in Unfinished Business — Verso, 2003)
Operation Daisy was perhaps the most lucrative and efficient of the undercover operations conducted by the apartheid state’s security police. It began in 1976 when the police spy and National Union of SA Students (Nusas) executive member, Craig Williamson met in Botswana with Lars Gunnar Eriksson, the head of the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF). The IUEF was a major funder of anti-apartheid groups in South Africa and the apartheid government was in the process of clamping down on such foreign funding.
In Gaborone, Williamson outlined his plans. Because of the government clampdown that included funding to assist the victims of the apartheid system, he said he had devised a series of trusts, which would be able to circumvent the new rules. These were cunningly disguised in that they had as a sole trustee a highly reputable university professor who could not in any way be linked to any political organisation. Money, supposedly belonging to the professor, could be channelled to the trusts, which could then disburse it as local funding. Another channel was through the Danish Confectionery, a bakery and confectionery shop in Johannesburg’s Smal Street, owned by members of Williamson’s network, the Asmussen/Deans family, through whom he had met his wife. Williamson’s own sister, Lisa, would act as administrator of the trusts. Eriksson agreed immediately. He also thought it imperative that Williamson leave the country and go into exile. This was exactly what Williamson’a boss, General Johan Coetzee, also wanted.
A few local activists were informed in broad terms, and in strict confidence, about what was planned regarding anti-apartheid funding. Among them was human rights lawyer, Geoff Budlender, who was asked by Williamson to draw up a draft of the trust deeds. Those “in the know” also tended to appreciate the irony of the Danish Confectionery being involved. Much IUEF money, they knew, originated in Denmark. They were also impressed with the choice of the sole trustee for both the Prisoners Support Trust (PST) and the Education Research Trust. He was the Anglo-Spanish fine arts professor from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Eduardo Joel Fabio Barraclough, a charming, tennis playing and sartorially immaculate raconteur.
Johan Coetzee’s “friends in the media” had created a public profile for Barraclough as a brilliant, liberal artist with apparently impeccable credentials, having taught art at Britain’s exclusive Rugby School and having served on the executive of the British Royal Society of Sculptors. The Citizen, the Johannesburg Star and the Rand Daily Mail all carried laudatory articles. At a time when universities were desperate to maintain international contacts and recruitment, the fact that he failed to produce any examples of his work or a promised photographic portfolio of his paintings and sculptures was also overlooked. He had, in any event, been interviewed in Britain by a tennis-playing vice-chancellor whose academic field was law.
When Barraclough arrived at Wits in 1974 to start a three-year contract, he promptly fell out with colleagues and students in the fine arts department. He was labelled incompetent and a possible fraud. But, at the time, nobody in the department or at the university seems to have thought that he might be any more than a disorganised, slick-talking and mediocre artist who was out of his depth. In the light of subsequent newspaper reports on the prowess and apparent success of Barraclough, even some of his critics began to doubt their assessments. They were not aware to what degree the media could be manipulated and that the Barraclough profile was being established under the directions of Johan Coetzee’s Section A planners using several of the “friends in the media”.
The image they projected was that of a free-thinking radical artist, the sort of person who could be expected to have trouble with establishments. Referring, in May 1977, to Barraclough’s supposed critique of art in South Africa, the Star’s art critic, John Dewar, for example, noted: “He found signs of the ‘averted eyes’ approach to the fundamentals of art… This resulted in a dehumanised and decorative form of abstraction.” Richard Cheales of the Citizen, in an embarrassingly sycophantic art column in October that year devoted it to “… this charming man with the volatile mind”, and quoted Barraclough as finding that “… uninitiated eyes [in South Africa] cannot distinguish between the work of amateurs and professionals”.
This façade was incredibly flimsy and would not have withstood more than cursory examination. But, as Coetzee correctly calculated, nobody would bother to check on the credentials of the man selected to be the trustee of the PST and ERT. The trusts officially came into being in November 1976 when a positive public image for Barraclough had been assured. It also provided essential protection for Operation Daisy and was highly successful. Even after he had left Wits, having trashed the university house in which he and his wife and five children had lived, Fabio Barraclough was widely regarded as a liberal intellectual. He continued to use the title of professor and responded to written demands from the Wits administration that he stop using it, with the claim that he had been awarded it by the University of Madrid. There is no record of this.
Once again, nobody checked. By the time Williamson fled Switzerland after he panicked and his “cover” was blown, much of the elaborate network established on the back of his outgrowth of Operation Daisy had unravelled. But Barraclough was, by then, already established in his new “cover”. With the security establishment obsessed with international plots against apartheid South Africa, Johan Coetzee devised a scheme to “infiltrate” the European anti-apartheid movement. It would be done at the highest level, by establishing a national anti-apartheid movement, which the South African security police would finance and control. The fact that Spain was decided on probably had as much to do with the fact that Barraclough was available as with the fact that no specific anti-apartheid movement existed there.
Spain in general and Madrid in particular was also a handy place to have an agent who was in no way connected with the South African embassy and who apparently had anti-apartheid credentials. The country was also a good conduit for money. In Spain, Barraclough led a double life. He was still Professor Barraclough, the apparently retired bilingual academic who listed a telephone number in that name. But he was also Pablo Valls, the evidently affluent anti-apartheid campaigner and funder of the Anti-Apartheid Committee. The committee itself appeared to do little if anything in terms of campaigning although “Valls” did address several meetings on South Africa. But he was the most conscientious attender of every anti-apartheid conference anywhere in Europe.
This was a source of considerable pride in Section A, which appears to have lavished substantial funding on the venture. The dapperly dressed and elderly anti-apartheid delegate with an insatiable curiosity was regarded, at best, as “rather strange” by the mainly younger and very activist AAM core. There was even speculation that he was “some kind of spy”, but it did not matter since the AAM was an open movement without any clandestine cells or secret agendas. So Pablo Valls was tolerated. This enabled him to get close to some visitors from southern Africa and, in particular, from Namibia. The scraps of information gleaned from them added to the jigsaw of names, places, dates and plans that were grist to Johan Coetzee’s security mill.
During a 1980 “summit” meeting in Geneva attended by both South African government delegates and representatives of the Namibian liberation movement, Swapo, Pablo Valls attended in a supportive role to the Swapo delegation. He fetched, carried, made himself generally useful, and listened. Every evening he would cross the border into France to the small village of Ferney-Voltaire. In a local hotel he would be “debriefed” by Craig Williamson who had returned only months after he had been exposed as a spy. Williamson typed out the reports based on the eavesdropping of Barraclough/Valls. He would then hand deliver them to South African summit delegate and SB chief General Johan van der Merwe at a table in a Ferney-Voltaire coffee shop. As a clandestine exercise, it worked. The value of the information gathered is less easy to assess and seems likely to have been minimal.
If only for reasons of self-promotion and budgetary justification the SB intervention at the 1980 Geneva meeting was immediately accorded the status of a major success. Especially since the head of the SB himself was involved, along with Coetzee and Williamson, there would be none who would question where reality ended and myth began. This also served Barraclough well. It secured him in his position and seems to have kept him in considerable funds. He also appears to have flown back to South Africa on several occasions for debriefings or even training sessions. His South African identity document and passport, in the name of Valls, made him three years younger than his actual age. According to these documents he was born on 1 July 1928. Eduardo Barraclough was born on 25 July 1925. Interviewed by telephone in Spain in June 1999, Johan Coetzee’s “Spanish connection” was an obviously frightened man. He admitted to being the trustee of the Prisoners Support Trust and the Education Research Trust and claimed he had been “under a lot of pressure from the police” in 1976.
SB agent Peter Casselton, a British recruit who was trained at Daisy Farm, the large property north of Pretoria, bought with R40,000 stolen from the trust funds, knew about the professor who spied in Spain. Casselton claimed “the professor” had been made “an offer he couldn’t refuse” by Section A, perhaps after the security police had checked his bona fides. Whatever the reason, in 1976, Fabio Barraclough became the “front” for the trusts which attracted funding from around the world to finance projects which would support the idea of a non-racial future in South Africa.
Coetzee and Section A had planned well. Because Geoff Budlender had been approached to draft the trust deeds, anti-apartheid activists assumed that the arrangement was above board. But neither Budlender nor any other anti-apartheid lawyer was involved in registering the trusts. That job was given to one of the leading Afrikaner — and generally regarded as Broederbond — firms in Pretoria, Couzyn, Hertzog and Horak. Any problems regarding the trusts would, therefore, be referred to them. It was an elementary precaution by the security services, yet one that would have rung alarm bells in anti-apartheid circles had it been known. But nobody checked the trust deeds register at the offices of the master of the supreme court in Pretoria until my parter, Barbara, and I did in 1999.