GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: A Friend who was a Spy – 1975 to 1980

 

I met Craig Williamson one day in July, 1975 at Johannesburg’s Jan Smuts Airport in South Africa.  For the next five years, I never had any doubt that he was a trusted ally, a comrade-in-arms  in a common cause, a valuable source of information and wisdom, and even  a friend.  But in 1980, I found out  that he had always been a mole for the South African Security Authority with a rank of something like captain. Though at first I felt betrayed by him, “betrayal” was not exactly the right word to use for Craig Williamson, because truthfulness for him had never been in his job description.  Deception was his nine-to-five job. He was very good at it.  Very few people suspected him of being anything other than what he was pretending to be – a dedicated fighter against apartheid.   A  few women I knew thought that he was a bit creepy, but even those who didn’t like him did not suspect him of being so monstrous as to be a spy.

I must be honest; I liked Craig Williamson.  He was always good to me and very helpful. My nature is to trust people. I don’t begin  a relationship with doubt.  I am a sucker in that was, I guess.  I feel sorry for a door-to-door fund- raiser or sales person.  Besides, Craig was out to charm me.  I was  game – a sitting duck.  My experience with Craig Williamson taught me to be a little bit more careful about people.  I suppose that is sad.  But the reality is: we have to teach children not to speak to strangers on the street.  Still, I feel sad about such reality.  I should have known better the dubious quality of human nature.

When I first met Craig, I was on my way to Lesotho from  Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I had just spent a night at the transit hotel in the airport building.   Since I had been made a prohibited immigrant in South Africa  in 1972, I always had to stay in the airport building to wait for a connecting flight . I had been what South African Government called a prohibited immigrant and had never been admitted into South Africa since 1972.  My association and friendship with those whom South African Government considered to be subversive, with people like Desmond Tutu, made me a threat to the security of the state.  Desmond was a colleague in the same Theology Department in the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, where I taught Theology.  So, I had to arrange the meetings with South African program partners either in Botswana or in Lesotho. But before leaving Rhodesia I learned that Karel Tip, President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS had been arrested a few days earlier. Tip was one of the people I was supposed to meet in Lesotho.  So, I had no idea what awaited me in South Africa, now that he had been arrested. I must say I was scared.

Though Williamson and I had never met, he spotted me as I was lining up to check in for the flight to Maseru, the capital of Lesotho.  A heavy-set man with a bearded round face, he came to me and asked, “Are you Tad Mitsui?”  Then he said, “I’m Craig Williamson,” and introduced himself as Vice-President of NUSAS. I was glad to meet him. He said he had come in Karel’s place and that he’d fly with me to Lesotho.  He was with another heavy-set man by the name of Barry Streek, who introduced himself as a reporter for the Daily Dispatch of King Williams Town.

In May, 1975, I took up a job of Associate Secretary for Eastern and Southern Africa at the international headquarters of the World University Service (WUS International) in Geneva.  During those days, WUS International had a huge program in southern Africa, mainly in Rhodesia and South Africa.  At the time, Rhodesia was known by its colonial name even after  Prime Minister Ian Smith had declared unilateral independence.  South Africa, of course, was ruled by the racial apartheid laws.  WUS International had many projects to support anti-Apartheid activists, often student groups, and to assist black students in universities through scholarships.  In July, 1975 I began a six-week sojourn, touring Eastern and Southern Africa to meet the people who were implementing WUS programs there.
 
The last stop before Lesotho was in Salisbury (now Harare  Rhodesia. WUS International was spending millions of Swiss francs to sponsor black African students at the University of Salisbury, who otherwise could not afford to get university education despite being  academically qualified..  The situation was different in South Africa, where universities were segregated according to race.  Because of the WUS scholarship program, the University of Salisbury had more black African students than whites.  I was staying with the Dean of Residence, . A.P. Knottenbelt (many people called him Knotty on the university campus.  

The night before I was to leave for Johannesburg and  Lesotho, Knotty, his wife Peggy and I were listening to the radio in their living room, just to catch the weather forecast. We were thunderstruck by  the news report of  the arrest of Breyten Breytenbach and Karel Tip by the South African Security Police.  Breyten Breytenbach was a well-known and much loved Afrikaaner poet who had gone into exile in Paris and joined the banned African National Congress.  Apparently, he had come back into South Africa in disguise and under a false passport to visit activists and recruit white members.  Karel Tip was one of those who were on Breytenbach’s  itinerary.  The authorities knew of Breytenbach’s  visit to South Africa from the beginning, most probably because of Craig Williamson, and followed him everywhere.  Near the end of his tour in South Africa, they arrested him and  those whom he had visited.  I was again amazed by how efficient the South African security apparatus was.  I thought that my plan to find out more not only about NUSAS but also about other projects was ruined.  It was particularly important at the time to find a rationale for a white organization to keep implementing programs for the liberation of  blacks, because the Black Consciousness Movement  was gaining strength, and young black Africans were beginning to take control of the programs that were intended to benefit them.

NUSAS had scholarship programs for African students.  One of them was the South African Students’ Education Trust (SASET which was helping to finance the university education of African students through correspondence at the University of South Africa (commonly known as UNISA.)  UNISA was favoured by many black students, because the educational content was not segregated by race and provided the same curriculum to all students regardless of race.  Another program was the South African Medical Students’ Trust (SAMST which helped qualified  black students who could not afford the medical school education.  Finally, there was the South African Prison Education Trust (SAPET which made it possible for  political prisoners to take university courses through UNISA.  WUS provided most of the required funds for those programs, mainly through government grants from Denmark and Sweden.  

However, beginning in the late sixties, just as in the United States’ civil rights movement with the rise of Black Power, the Black Consciousness Movement  began in South Africa first among  university students.  The most prominent leader of this emerging movement was Steve Biko, who, as a third-year medical student, led walk-out of all the black students at the Annual Conference of the University Christian Movement in Pietermeritzburg in 1968.   It is interesting that they chose a forum like the University Christian Movement to make a statement. It was a declaration of intent for the Blacks to take charge of their own liberation.  They no longer believed that liberation was possible through multi-racial organizations.  With better education and available resources, whites always had advantage over Blacks to be in the leadership positions.  They had to see what blacks could do by themselves.  They launched the South African Students’ Organization (SASO)  for blacks only and left NUSAS in 1968.

Back to Jan Smuts Airport. Craig told me that Barry Streek had come to see me on behalf of his wife, Laura Schultz, who had been the administrator of the three scholarship trust funds – SASET, SAMST, and SAPET.  I still don’t know if Streek was  part of Craig’s spy team, or another victim.  In Lesotho, I was staying in the O.M.I.. (Oblates of Mary Immaculate) Monastery on the university campus.  All the meetings with our South African partners took place there.  Williamson and Streek came to see me there also.  They were aware that the emergence of Black Consciousness Movement was a significant development, and that a  shift in policy might be necessary.  But they pointed out that it was a reality of South Africa that the Blacks were more exposed and vulnerable to  pressure from the authorities than the Whites.  Where money was involved, such a practical consideration had to be taken seriously.  I thought they had a point.  As for the three scholarship trusts, Streek  informed me that they were in the process of becoming independently incorporated trust funds, independent from the NUSAS.  This again made sense.

Meetings with South Africans in Lesotho took place a few more times.  I was careful to meet with whites in Lesotho and blacks in Botswana.  Geographically Lesotho was completely surrounded by South Africa.  So Blacks considered Botswana more secure than Lesotho.  I also didn’t want to embarrass either groups to run into each other.  This was the kind of sensitivity we had to exercise since the birth of the Black Consciousness Movement.  I met with Craig once more in Lesotho.  That was when he agreed to carry some cash with him across the border into South Africa.  For some time during those days, the South African government was trying very hard to make life difficult for activist organizations.  The Welfare Organizations Act defined non-profit organizations as such very narrowly hence made it very difficult for many non-profit organizations to receive funds from overseas.  The Affected Organizations Act meant that a certain number of non-profit and non-governmental organizations were deemed contaminated by foreign seductive and/or subversive ideas.  A cash transfer was one of the ways to circumvent the obstacles created by such  legislation.  But it was fraught with pitfalls, such as lack of accountability and corruption being obvious examples.  The rule of law is often the first victim of revolutions and war.  Immoral or unreasonable laws legitimize irregular actions such as guerrilla warfare, which are defined as terrorism under the normal circumstances.

A year or so later, I saw Williamson again in Geneva.   He arrived with the new President of NUSAS, whose name escapes me.  WUS put them up in a cheap hotel near downtown Geneva.  Their itinerary in Switzerland was arranged by two organizations, both based on student activism.  They were WUS and the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF).  WUS began as a service branch of the Student Christian Movement, whose international body was called  the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF).  Its offices were in  Geneva’s historical la Vieille Ville on the hill near St. Pierre Cathedral on rue Calvin, where Protestant Reformer Jean Calvin had lived in the 16th century.    Our South African guests said they wanted to become familiar not only with us but also with other organizations which were working against Apartheid in South Africa, such as the World Council of Churches  and the United Nations.

I don’t remember too much about their visit except an interview I arranged for them with Paulo Freire, the Brazilian guru of popular literacy.  He at the time was in exile in Geneva and employed by the World Council of Churches as a consultant in the Commission on Education.  Another thing that remains in my mind was their opinion of Steve Biko.  The emergence of  the Black Consciousness Movement hit all the white progressive people hard.  They felt excluded from the liberation struggles.  Many accused  black militants of being reverse racists.  .  However, despite their complaints about the emerging black activism, Williamson admitted that Steve Biko was exceptional.  “He is extraordinary,” they said.  In view of Williamson’s important role in Biko’s death a few years later,  it was a significant comment in retrospect.

Williamson didn’t stay in South Africa too much longer after his first visit to Geneva.  We thought  he had become a valuable contact in South Africa because of his insightful knowledge of situation in South Africa.  We valued the information he had sent to us very much.   In fact, because of bits and pieces of information Craig sent to us in various ways, the Executive Director of the IUEF a Swede by the name of Lars-Gunnar Ericson  and I began to have a weekly morning coffee in each others’ offices to compare notes based on Williamson’s intelligence.  But this arrangement didn’t last very long, because Craig decided to come out into exile.  In retrospect, I wonder what kind of insignificant pieces of information Williamson fed us in order to gain credibility with us.  My memory has faded to allow me to analyze this more deeply.

One day in one of those coffee breaks, Ericson informed me that Craig had decided to leave South Africa.  Apparently, Craig had told Ericson that he’d been drafted into the army and didn’t want to fight Black brothers.  When this conversation took place, Craig was already in Botswana.  He walked from Kimberly, through the South African desert into the capital, Gabarone.  This escape route was a very well used one for exiles. Ericson  also told me that he had hired Craig as Information Officer for the IUEF.  Many government aid agencies got hurt very badly, including  the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA  when Williamson  was exposed in 1979.  IUEF was directly blamed for the fiasco, and was forced to disband.  In its report, the International Commission that looked into the scandal prominently listed lack of accountability in the management structure of the IUEF as a major cause.  I was so close to be tempted to make the same mistake as the one Lars-Gunnar made.

While he lived in Geneva, Craig and I became close friends.   We had meals together regularly at my apartment and in restaurants.  He particularly liked a Japanese restaurant called “Kyoto” near Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations.  It was our custom to up-date our news from  South Africa and check the project proposals coming out of South African activist organizations.   I was never invited  to his apartment.  Even after his wife, Ingrid, joined him, he always invited me to Kyoto.  He said  the food was much better than anything he or Ingrid  could ever prepare.  Even after he was promoted to  Deputy Director of the IUEF, he appeared to me as  candid as he always had been and did not  hesitate to share information and ideas with me. Whenever he touched on tricky subjects of the advantage the IUEF might have over the WUS in a subtle rivalry over government grants, he always said, “the cause is more important than an instrument.  An organization is only an instrument for the cause for me.”

Ingrid Williamson arrived in Geneva a few months after her husband.  She carried a Danish passport, so she was able to come out of South Africa and  into Switzerland legally.  As soon as she joined Craig, she registered in the Medical School at the University of Geneva.  She used to work out with a close colleague of mine – Marco Gramegna – at the university gym.  He liked her, which was quite an achievement, as Marco was a Chilean refugee tortured by the Augusto Pinochet’s police.  He knew the ways of the oppressive regimes and their agents.  Marco had a sharp nose to sniff out suspicious characters.  Marco did not trust some of my South African guests.  In fact, at one meeting which was held in Lesotho, Marco kicked out some South African guests who came asking for me in my absence.  I was very angry with him.  But even Marco didn’t suspect Ingrid.  She was a typically Scandinavian looking woman, handsome and always well dressed.    Perhaps she was a bit too well-dressed for the wife of an NGO employee.  She often traveled  back and forth  between Switzerland and South Africa, something she could do easily because  of  her nationality.  In retrospect, just because she could travel easily isn’t a reason for her doing so.  But we thought that she was helping Craig carrying information back and forth.   Unlike Craig, who  had a natural and self-possessed look, Ingrid looked uneasy, tense, and perhaps scared.  We thought that she was just shy, part of being a inrovert Northern European.

It is interesting to recall the organizations Craig recommended  as worthy of our support and the ones which weren’t, in his opinion.   One time a request came to us  through Desmond Tutu, who at the time was General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches,  from a new organization calling itself  the  “Domestic Workers Project.”  The project was headed by a white woman named Sue Gordon  and was an attempt to organize maids and nannies who were working for white families.  I thought it would be a powerful instrument.  There was no white family in South Africa without at least a black woman working as a maid, cooking and cleaning, and as a nanny looking after their children.  Many white women didn’t know how to cook or clean the house or change diapers.  If you could organize those domestic servants, it would be a terrible threat  to the security of the white community and  knock them out of their complacency.  Craig didn’t like it.  He thought that the workers were so domesticated  they would never be a revolutionary force.  He said it would simply make black women better maids and nannies.   

I am now convinced that I had been right initially.  The organization was later taken over by Leah Tutu, Desmond’s wife.  But I was almost been persuaded by Craig.  I met Sue Gordon in Lesotho.  Sue’s upper class British accent made her sound like a school mistress at an English public school.   Her appearance was that of an upper-class do-gooder.  So I had reason to believe Craig’s word.  I have to admit now that I had prejudice against a ceratin class of people.   But fortunately the WUS was very much a democratic and student- run organization, and the Project Committee approved funding to the Domestic Workers Project.  It may be slow acting but manifests its common sense wisdom in the end.  So WUS began supporting Domestic Workers’ Project.  And I am glad that Craig’s words about Sue and the group was wrong.  Other organizations Craig questioned were an interesting mixture. For some reason, they included the South African Council of Churches, which was perhaps  too theologically sophisticated for him.    Another one was the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED).  Likewise, perhaps SACHED was too professional.  So he said they weren’t revolutionary enough.  But they both turned out to be some of the most effective organizations in keeping  the momentum going against the system within the country.

One group Williamson recommended very highly was the  “Environmental Development Agency” (EDA).
I even asked the United Church of Canada to give it a helping hand,  which it did.  The person in charge was a man by the name of Karl Edwards, a white man claiming to be a student at the University of Witwatersrand.  The EDA’s aim was to train black people living in what was called “Black Homeland” or “Bantustan”  in what we would call “sustainable development”.  It was supposed to sabotage the government’s effort to impoverish  the black homeland.  I don’t think  the project  was a scheme invented by the state security apparatus, but  Karl Edwards  turned out to be a spy who got himself  hired by the organization.  I don’t know how he managed to do that.  Edwards held a lower rank than Williamson in the Security Forces.   I believe that he was a sergeant, while Craig was a captain.  Edwards and his girl friend once came to visit me in Geneva..  He stayed at my apartment.   I did not find him very bright.  I don’t think he was a university student.  Later, he embezzled money from EDA.  Other people in the EDA didn’t know that Edwards was a mole until he quit.  It was the South African police that fired him from the Security Force, thus losing his job as a spy.  

It does make some kind of sense for a puritanical Calvinistic government to be intolerant of a theft of a few thousand dollars, while approving and initiating assassination, murders, and tortures.   I don’t know how the police found out about Edward’s embezzlement.  Certainly the EDA didn’t know that money had been siphoned off.    Marco Gramegna was the one who never trusted Edwards.  He told Edwards to leave, when he came looking for me during a meeting of the Executive in Lesotho.  The police fired Edwards from the security force and returned the money to the EDA without any conviction for embezzlement in the court of law.  It was one of those strange and even stupid things that happened from time to time in South Africa.  There were so many informers, for example, in the University Christian Movement that they were often informing about other informers without knowing their hidden identities.  I am not sure why Craig commended Edwards highly.  I wonder if Craig recommended the EDA highly because he wanted a second informer with him.  But certainly Edwards didn’t live up to Craig’s standard.

One last project Craig and I collaborated on was a plan to establish a dummy company in the tiny principality of Liechtenstein which bordered on Austria and Switzerland.  For no better reason – than my own procrastination, the WUS never joined the venture.  If we had, the results would have been disastrous.  As I mentioned before, sending money into South Africa to support the anti-apartheid activists  was increasingly difficult.  In retrospect, it is interesting and revealing that we had no difficulty supporting long established organizations like SACC, SACHED, or the Institute of Race Relations.   They were competent, professional, and their integrity was beyond reproach.  They always insisted on doing everything openly, even though the South African government was openly hostile to them and harassed them in many ways including a bombing of the SACC headquarters.  It was also interesting that Craig Williamson steered clear of those above-board organizations.  At any rate, we were in search of different ways to transfer funds.   Craig came up with the idea of a dummy company in Liechtenstein.  For years, Switzerland has been known for allowing  numbered bank accounts for those people who wanted to hide their money.  But Switzerland was getting more nervous about the numbered accounts  because the country was now affluent and valued its good name.  It no longer wanted to be known as a country where dictators and organized crimes could hide their money.  In the meantime, many other small countries, including Liechtenstein,  were stepping into Switzerland’s place and began imitating the ways of numbered accounts.  So the idea was to create a dummy company Lichtenstein in order to transfer funds into South Africa.  It should look like a pure business transaction, which might be difficult fot for South African authorities to crack down, because South Africans themselves were using those dummy companies to circumvent the international sanction.  At least, that was the idea.  It was difficult for me to sell such an idea in the WUS, because the WU was an open and democratic organization.  The bureaucracy was kept on a short leash by the students on theExecutive .  Governments who provided a large proportion of funds demanded strict accountability too.  So I hesitated, and my time at the WUS  ran out.  I came back to Canada in late 1979 to take a job with  the Canadian Council of Churches.  But apparently, the IUEF went ahead and created a company called “ Southern Cross, S.A.” (Societe Anonyme) in Liechtenstein.   

In December, 1979, I was shocked by a telephone call from Richard Taylor from Geneva telling me that Craig Williamson had always been a South African spy.  Richard wanted to know the nature of  my relationship with Craig Williamson   He particularly wanted to know how much I told Craig about Steve Biko.  That disturbed me more than anything else.  I did introduce Desmond Tutu to Williamson.  We had a dinner together at a restaurant called l’Avenir on Avenue Louis Casai near the Geneva Airport in Cointrin.  But I don’t think Craig did anything about the connection with Desmond.  SACC for some reason was a “no-go” area for Craig.  But as for Steve, yes, we did talk about him a lot.  But I don’t think I added anything new to what he had already known.  In fact, Craig Williamson was a major source of information about Steve – what he was doing and his whereabouts.  In fact, when Steve Biko died it was Craig Williamson who phoned me at my apartment only a few hours after his death.  I remember vividly that evening.  Ray Whitehead, the Coordinator of the Canada-China Programme at the time, was staying at my apartment.  When I heard of Steve’s death, it was such a big shock that I nearly collapsed.  

Steve Biko for me was the hope for South Africa.  ANC had been a banned organization so long as I was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in Lesotho and in Switzerland.  I was never involved in the clandestine activities.  Among the young activists who were still working above board, Biko represented the brightest hope.  He was creative, brave, energetic, charismatic, articulate, and best of all full of humor.  I liked him a lot personally.  I felt like all my hopes were dashed.   Ray whitehead remembered that dreadful evening.  He told me so when I finally reached Toronto and started to work for the Canadian Council of Churches.  Ray came to Geneva for a WCC meeting but stayed with me partly because he wanted to persuade me to apply for the job at the CCC.   I could not work for about a week because of the shock of the news.  Now I am convinced that Craig Williamson played a major role in the arrest and murder of Steve Biko.

Coming back to “Southern Cross S.A.”, I don’t know what Williamson’s real intention in suggesting such a real cloak and dagger stuff was.  But I can say that it did create a beginning of the end of his career in Geneva.  It also ended the life of an organization – IUEF.  According to an IUEF staff person by the name of Chris Beer, who lost his job due to the dissolution of the organization, Craig Williamson disclosed his real identity by attempting to blackmail Lars-Gunnar Ericson in order to make him an agent of the South African spy network in Geneva and Scandinavian capitals.   Many anti-Apartheid organizations were based in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.  Almost they were the major source of funds for anti-apartheid activities.   Chris speculated that Craig knew there were enough irregularities in the administration of funds apparently, for Lars-Gunnar to fear a full disclosure of the financial operation of the “Southern Cross, S.A.”  I ran into Chris in a bar in Khartoum in July, 1980.  I was then already employed by the Canadian Council of Churches, and Chris by another NGO in Geneva.  Secrecy does not encourage accountability, and lack of accountability provides opportunities for corruption, I guess.  According to the press when Craig’s real identity was exposed, the meeting between Craig and Lars-Gunnar took place in a bar in Zurich in the presence of another higher officer of the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS).  To his credit, Lars-Gunnar refused to be co-opted, and threatened two South Africans in turn to report to the Swiss Authority.  In Switzerland, violating  bank secrecy is a serious offence, and Lars-Gunnar used that argument to scare the South Africans.  Two South Africans immediately took off to return to their country, where Craig was welcomed as a hero, I was told.

I have no idea about the extent of the damage Craig Williamson caused.  I am now sure that he was the main instigator and planner of the murder of Steve Biko.  Some of the people who were injured or killed by letter bombs were reported to have received parcels or letters from “IUEF”.  The press reported that they were all expecting post from a supporter in Geneva.  Abram Tiro was blown up by a parcel from IUEF in Gaberone, Botswana.  My close friend John Osmers, an Anglican priest from New Zealand lost his right hand and his genital when he was opening a parcel from Geneva in Lesotho.  He claimed that the bomb did not cause too much inconvenience on his part.  “I am left-handed.  And I am a celibate monk,” he said.  Michael Lapsely, another Anglican monk from New Zealand was also injured by a letter bomb in Zimbabwe.  Ruth First, a South African journalist and wife of Joe Slovo, both of whom were very close friends of Nelson Mandela, was also killed in Mozambique in the same way.  I also heard the news about a raid into an ANC camp in Swaziland led by “Captain Williamson.”

What I know and can speculate about the extent of damage this episode caused is mainly personal.  I know that IUEF could not survive.  But there must have been a great deal more damage done to the governments’ programs.  An international governmental commission of enquiry was instituted chaired by David MacDonald, who held an important position in the Progressive Conservative Party at the time.  I believe it was the time when Brian Mulroney was in power, and MacDonald was a member of Parliament.  I asked a CIDA official later if I could see the report of the commission.  I was told that it was a top secret document.  It must have been a very embarrassing incident for many governmental aid agencies.  One concrete result of the Craig Williamson incident was much more strict accounting procedures for the Scandinavian governments.  From my own experience of dealing with Canadian money from CIDA, I could tell that Canada already had a fairly strict set of procedures and requirements, which incidentally could not have prevented the fiasco created by Williamson.

 

I understand that Craig Williamson appeared before Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  I wondered if Desmond remembered that dinner we had with Craig at l’Avenir on Avenue Louis Casai.  I have not heard how much he confessed.  I have not heard if he was officially forgiven.  But one thing I know: he is alive and well in Johannesburg, in fact doing rather well in an import and export business with Mozembique.  When I was in Johannesburg as a member of the International and Ecumenical observer team for the first General Election in 1994, some friends in Johannesburg thought that I should see Craig Williamson.  One of them, who happened to be a journalist, found a telephone number and address.  Alas, I did not have guts to pick up the telephone.  Besides, what could I say if I see him?  I still have the telephone number.

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