Bitter experience teaches seasoned journalists that some of their best stories, often the ones that threaten people in power, may never see the light of day.

Even in a democracy guided by a Constitution that guarantees press freedom, many important stories are vanished from view by court interdicts, and threats of harm to reporters and economic damage to publishing houses. Even the most tenacious journalists can fail to land a big story when they crash into the brick wall of a cover-up.


Evelyn Groenink

Evelyn Groenink is a tenacious journalist. For 30 years, she investigated the assassination of Dulcie September, who at the time of her death on March 29 1988 was the ANC’s chief representative in France. That lead Groenink down a bloodied path to two other assassinations — those of Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani.

The common thread between the three liberation heroes was that they were incorruptible and threatened the longstanding, lucrative arms trade between France and SA.

Groenink heard the news of September’s assassination on the radio in the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s office in Amsterdam. She knew that South African death squads had done this before. Parcel bombs had blown Ruth First, unionist Jeanette Schoon and her little daughter Katryn to pieces. Joe Gqabi was shot in his Harare office. Groenink decided that she wanted to investigate this assassination; it was different, she was stunned.

September, aged 53, was shot five times in the face as she arrived at the ANC’s office in Paris clutching her handbag and the mail.

Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha immediately blamed the assassination on a "faction fight between Trotskyite coloureds and communist blacks". The French minister of police parroted Botha. The investigation into her death was lacklustre, the murderer has not been found and the case has been closed.

Groenink meticulously recounts her three-decade investigation, sifting though contradictory and conflicting cover-up stories and false trails laid by spies from several nations. Successive French governments — conservative and socialist — had broken the UN arms embargo against apartheid SA and had a cordial but hidden relationship with it.

September had unearthed information about "nuclear issues", that much was known. But she had not shared it with anyone before she was shot and permanently silenced.

Lubowski was a Namibian human rights lawyer and Swapo leader assassinated in 1989 on the eve of his country’s independence. Hani was a leader of the South African Communist Party, beloved by millions and assassinated in 1993, also on the threshold of freedom.

Another thing September, Lubowski and Hani had in common was that they had all drifted into the orbit of Frenchman Alain Guenon.

"A socialist friend of the Mitterrands, a nuclear material salesman, a friend of Anton Lubowski and a former extreme right-wing soldier of fortune" is how Guenon is described in Groenink’s book. He also had a letter of introduction from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Lubowski had called Guenon for help, two days before he was murdered.

The former extreme right-wing soldier of fortune eased his arms trade smoothly over the border between apartheid and democracy. Guenon moved to Johannesburg in the early 1990s and attended gatherings and parties with the new ANC elite, including soon-to-be deputy minister of defence Ronnie Kasrils.

When Nelson Mandela visited France, Guenon positioned himself between Madikizela-Mandela and Danielle Mitterrand for a photograph. Guenon was a friend of Tokyo Sexwale, had registered a business for him and helped him find a house. He had also helped Hani find a house in Dawn Park, Boksburg. He ran a housing project for returning South African exiles and had done the same in Namibia.

In September 1992, when the UN arms embargo against SA was still in place, Sexwale and Gen Bantu Holomisa had gone to Paris with Guenon to look at weapons, including parts for SA’s French Mirage jets. Hani had refused to join the delegation.

Groenink reviews the police docket on the Hani murder and pokes huge holes through it, despite the court decision that Janusz Walus was solely responsible, inspired by Clive Derby-Lewis. Will the case be reopened? Gerrie Nel did not return her calls.

As she prepared to publish her book, she realised that she had made enemies during the course of her lengthy investigation. "Asking for comment from all the businessmen, lawyers and accountants who crowded around Hani in the months before he was killed has resulted in an avalanche of lawyers’ letters to publisher Jacana, threatening to sue and, by implication, to tie Jacana up in expensive litigation even before they publish," she writes.

Groenink is a tenacious journalist. She has carefully uncovered new truths that have withstood a barrage of threats.

"I can only hope that the stories of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani as narrated in this book will add fuel to a new anticorruption movement that is growing in SA today," she writes. "Thanks to this movement there may not be a nuclear mafia deal in SA. Dulcie September would have been pleased."