Gordon Winter is a self-confessed criminal and spy. He was a BOSS agent par excellence, a journalist by trade and a spy by profession. In May 1979, Winter defected and left South Africa with his wife and two children. The revelations of Winter regarding BOSS (Bureau of State Security) confirm and underline the fact that South Africa is a police State and in a state of siege. In response to its growing international isolation and the ever increas¬ing militancy of its oppressed black majority, the Apartheid State embarked upon a clan¬destine and aggressive propa-ganda campaign on all fronts.

South Africa’s new Gestapo (BOSS) was officially formed in May 1969 by General Hendrik Van den Bergh. But it was, in reality, just the old Republican Intelligence net-work given a new name and legalized by Parliament.

John Vorster, then Prime Minister, had to arrange for secret funds to be allocated to this noto¬rious organization to assist it in unconventional ways in combating the world-wide onslaught against South Africa. Winter reveals that to achieve this objective, BOSS created a whole network of ‘front organizations’ through which funds could be chan¬nelled to finance the take-over of newspapers and publishing companies, and to assist the activities of pro-apartheid bodies at home and abroad.

Appropriately, BOSS concen¬trated its overseas campaign on the United States and Britain—the two countries with the closest economic ties with South Africa and where there is a strong anti-apartheid lobby. For example, in 1973 the first of many full page advertisements, placed by the mysterious ‘Club of Ten’, in support of the South African rich, appeared in the British and American press and throughout Europe. The Club of Ten was ostensibly a group of international businessmen who were friends of South Africa, but who above all else wished to remain anonymous. Suspicions that the Club was merely a front organiza¬tion of the Department of Information, had always been vehemently denied by the South African Embassy in London. But on June 24, 1979 the Club of Ten’s anonymity was blown when Gerald Sparrow, a right wing British judge, publicly stated that he was responsible for placing the advertisements in the British press, on behalf of the South African Department of Information which controlled and financed the project. Judge Sparrow also implicated Vorster, when he emphatically stated that all lines led ulti¬mately to the Prime Minister’s office, which was completely informed of all activities at home and abroad.

In the book under review, Winter tells us that BOSS supported an extensive lobby in the United States. Apart from Pretoria’s effort to make friends among the upper reaches of the US govern¬ment, BOSS’S propaganda campaign was also aimed at the American public. The cen¬tral figure in this campaign was the American publisher, John McGoff. McGoff owns more than fifty newspapers in the US, which makes his newspaper chain one of the biggest in America. Acting on behalf of BOSS, McGoff made a bid for the large daily news¬paper, the Washington Star. ‘This news-paper was to be used as a vehicle for South African propaganda against the rival Washington Post, which is loathed by Pretoria because of its constant attacks on the policy of apartheid’. Part of BOSS’S practice was also to host all-expenses-paid trips to South Africa for American Congressmen and influential businessmen.

After all that has been said by Winter in his book so far, one may well ask why South Africa should spend so much time, effort and money to portray a favourable image of itself abroad? The answer is that Pretoria has long since realized that its survival is as much dependent on maintaining the momentum of foreign invest¬ments in the country and warding off economic sanc¬tions, as it is on suppressing any revolt by the black majority.

The revelations in Inside BOSS are startling, even to the seasoned student of South African politics. The plot to spring the African National Congress leader Nelson Man¬dela from his Devil’s Island, Robben Island, is only one tale. Thanks to personal advertisements in the British press addressed to genuinely concerned individuals wishing to bring South Africa’s natural leader to freedom, and thanks to Winter’s vigi-lance, BOSS learnt of the plan. Winter be¬came the leader of the plot to kill Mandela.

The plot fizzled out, one is relieved to hear. But the fact that it happened, involving slow, careful planning over a period of years, gives an in¬sight into BOSS methods, its own brand of dirty tricks, of which there seem to be end¬less varieties. People chosen to be recruited were smeared if they refused to collaborate. Bram Fischer, South Africa’s Communist Party leader, an eminent barrister and one of the strongest and most charis¬matic personalities to emerge from the Afrikaans-speaking group was smeared—by using two well-known women journalists to witness his arrest under the odious 180-day detention law, allowing him to be released soon after his detention and then spread¬ing the word that he had given away his friends.

BOSS had a hand in the crea¬tion of the bogus anti-FRELIMO Mozambique National Resistance, MNR, now equip¬ped with South African arms and actually fighting inside Mozambique—a group of disgruntled Africans, former collaborators with the Portu¬guese, backed by Portuguese funds. The parallel with UNITA in Angola is frighten-ing. South Africa, which al¬ways haughtily rejects inter¬ference in its domestic affairs—that is, denunciation of apartheid—and claims not to interfere in the affairs of others, is seen to be interfering in an alarming manner in the affairs of its neighbours. It was always suspected, but Winter confirms the suspicions.

During his years as an agent—Winter says he was recruited in 1963 along with some twenty-eight other journalists—he played the dirty tricks game superbly. He cheerfully pump¬ed his victims for information and passed it along the line to BOSS, who detained, tortur¬ed and charged people as a result of the process begun by Winter. Indeed, while he was working in the UK he com¬plained that action often followed too soon after he had made a contact and feared in time that this might arouse suspicion.

Winter’s confessions are no mere retelling of sordid stories. They have an impact and carry a message. He him¬self says he feels he has served a purpose in life by being able to write this book. Certainly it is true to say that no such book has ever come out of South Africa before—and also that none other than a ‘penitent’ agent and one with a phenomenal memory and previous access to, under¬cover information could have written it.

The activities of BOSS must be considered within the con¬text of the general trend in South African politics. With the appointment of Piet Botha as Prime Minister, the Bureau of State Security was disband¬ed and replaced by the Depart¬ment of National Security (DONS). ‘This was simply a cleansing tactic to get rid of the hated nickname BOSS, which had become synony¬mous with skulduggery all over the world’. Can there be any doubt that South Africa is a police state and in a state of siege?

Donald Peter Chimanikire is a Research Scholar, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


Review Details

Book Name: Inside BOSS—South Africa's Secret Police
Reviewer name: Donald Peter Chimanikire
Author name: Gordon Winter
Book Year: 1982
Publisher Name: Penguin Books, London
Book Price: £3.95
Book Pages: 640