Read an extract from the never-before-told story of working for 'Mandela's spies'
'It took cash to disrupt political rallies by lobbing teargas into meeting halls. Bombs, grenades and sub-machine guns didn’t come cheap'
The year is 1988 and South Africa teeters on the edge of a state of emergency.
Seventeen-year-old Bradley Steyn crosses Pretoria's Strijdom Square and walks straight into a massacre. Barend Strydom, the notorious white supremacist known as the "Wit Wolf", is mowing down black bystanders relaxing in the square during their lunch break.
Bradley cradles a dying man in his arms. Later, with reports of eight dead and 16 seriously injured, he is brought face to face with the insanity of the nation.
Suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unable to cope with day-to-day life and consumed by rage, Bradley spirals out of control.
His parents unwittingly initiate the next chapter in the story of the boy who crossed the square when they arrange for him to join the navy. Here, angry and unable to work though his trauma, he is called upon by the apartheid regime's Security Branch to "confront the threat of communism".
The navy serviceman joins the dreaded D Section of the Security Branch as a classified government enforcer - but not for long before the underground ANC's department of intelligence and security (DIS) recruits him.
On the political stage, events are changing fast: FW de Klerk becomes president, the ANC is unbanned and Nelson Mandela walks to freedom.
However, undermining this progress, a sinister "third force" has formed an alliance between the state's military intelligence and white supremacists. With these forces edging the nation toward a bloody race war, President FW de Klerk is forced to make a deal with Nelson Mandela.
Bradley is part of the DIS's plan to infiltrate the mysterious "third force" before all hope for a free future is destroyed. He goes undercover to help unravel the extremists' masterplan – but will his time run out before they discover he is working for Mandela’s spies?
This astonishing true-life thriller reveals for the first time some of the dirty secrets of a dirty war.
"Holt" was on a mission. We would later discover that party-crashing a venue packed with clubbers from all communities meant a big payout for him, tasked by right-wing groups to raise money to fund anti-peace accord efforts. Rather than begging for handouts, Holt's experience lay in applying strong-arm tactics to extort and rob bars and nightclubs. With his ill-gotten gains, he contributed hard cash to promote terror.
It took cash to disrupt political rallies by lobbing teargas into meeting halls. Bombs, grenades and sub-machine guns didn’t come cheap, nor were they easily accessed without plenty of money. Donations via fanatics like Holt helped lay a path of mayhem at newspaper offices, theatres, banks, railway stations, hotels, union offices and, as an added extra, Hebrew language and Jewish schools. Even the US ambassador’s residence in Pretoria was under threat.
Holt's modus operandi was not subtle. He'd pull in and beat up the unprepared bouncer. It didn’t end there; this sociopath lived to create bedlam. After persuading a club’s owner into "co-operation" by leaving part of the building riddled with bullets, his militia would then marshal the doors at a hefty premium under the motto, "Face the shakedown or be dead".
If either Neil de Beer or Cyril Beeka had been with me that night, it would have been game over the moment Holt stuck his ugly mug in my face. When he leaned in towards me with his hand cupped to his mouth, I'd assumed he wanted to talk. Being the obliging type, I offered my ear.
Instead, he struck the side of my temple with his forearm. I pivoted at the impact, until my flailing jaw met his palm strike. It felt like a rock. I'd never been cold-cocked – completely lights out – before and struggled to stop the lights from fading. I started to lose consciousness on the way down.
Then, like a slow magic, my old friend adrenaline got going. I clearly remember thinking, I have to get my shit together. I have to move before he stomps my head in. Yet I was in serious trouble stuck to the floor. I managed to hoist myself on to one knee, steadied, and then tried to push up.
Battling to gain my feet, there was nothing I could do when he attacked me from behind with a sharp kick that forced my knees to buckle. Again I hit the deck. He then had me in a choke hold. We wrestled, going nowhere fast. But I had the territorial advantage because I knew that, tucked near the club entrance, was a fire extinguisher.
It was covered in dust, so it’s doubtful it would have worked in any actual fire emergency, but that crusty old extinguisher became the perfect weapon of opportunity and it may well have saved my life.
First, I had to free my neck, and it took the full extinguisher. Holt didn't register what I was up to but seemed surprised when I rammed what must have looked like a torpedo into his face.
On impact, I watched as his nose burst open in a blossom of red. It was a sight to behold to see him him lying in a pool of his own blood on the dark floor.
As I attempted to catch my breath, I assessed the physical damage. Not good. I had damaged my right hand badly. The gaping wound in my trigger-finger knuckle was downright gnarly. F*ck, recovery was going to be a nightmare. Indeed, it left me with a scar I still carry today.
Three yellow police vans pitched up with sirens blaring. Though late, I was happy to see them. I knew most of the Cape Town CBD cops quite well. This particular evening, however, there was a new sheriff in town – a cocky police lieutenant. He was projecting his newfound authority with a unit of baying dogs and a squad of young constables itching for action.
The lieutenant ordered Holt and me to place our hands against a police van. Holt refused, so I grabbed his wrist to compel him to comply. He jerked his hand away and my grip slipped, causing my elbow to snap back into the lieutenant’s face. For the second time that evening, I’d bust open a nose.
The humiliated lieutenant was not amused – and I don’t blame him. He looked pitiful sitting on his ass in the street with a blood-soaked hanky attached to his nose. In a pointless attempt to reassert his authority, the jackass barked at the dog handlers to release the hounds.
I wish he hadn't done that, because Holt lashed out at the dogs, kicking one smack in the snout with his Doc Martens. I sensibly scrambled on to the roof of a police van just ahead of the snapping jaws of an ill-tempered German shepherd.
From the safety of that summit, I watched several policemen attempting to crowbar Holt into the back of the cop wagon. The guy was like a crazed animal. They pummelled him with fists as he tried to crush their skulls with his signature boots.
I was content to let things play out. Regrettably, Holt had other ideas. He began to spit and mouth off at me, spewing insults about my mother and father in Afrikaans – and then the death threats began. I snapped. Gravity and blind rage propelled me off the roof of the police vehicle. My momentum and angle of attack drove Holt to the ground. Using his jacket collar as leverage, I slammed his head against the curb.
Before I could do further damage, the constables intervened and pried me loose.
That was the moment Project Group’s august ERU finally arrived. They made themselves useful by holding back the crowd as Holt and I were loaded into separate vehicles. Over the radio on the way to Cape Town Central police station, I overheard that he had kicked off the police van’s door. Only after they gassed the scumbag were they able to control him, but that would keep him subdued until they reached the police station.
Copying my earlier move, on the way to being booked, Holt grabbed a fire extinguisher off the police station's wall and slammed it into a constable's face before spraying everyone with the fire retardant. I could see the ruckus while I was being questioned by a sergeant.
After having my security bona fides confirmed by the Security Branch’s Major Andy Miller, I was free to go.
Project Group's partner, Cyril, had also dropped by the station to check on me, and I made it my business to complicate his evening. "Thanks, buddy, for putting your body on the line for me," I said, rolling to my feet in the cool-down cell. "You shouldn't have. I really didn't need any help."
The irritated look he tossed my way suggested I lay off the sarcasm.
"Jy praat kak," Cyril said.
"I’m not talking shit. How come you're never around when the shit hits the fan anywhere near me?"
I knew it was wrong to take my frustrations out on Cyril because he always had my back. For months, Neil and I had excluded him from the major's assignments. We had deliberately left him in the dark. Cunning operator that he was, he’d probably sensed something was going on.
"I’ll klap that big fat head of yours," Cyril warned with jokey familiarity. He gave me a sideways glance, but I didn’t know whether it was a playful or a distrustful look. I quickly changed the subject. "Drive me to Somerset Hospital in Green Point, asseblief. Please," I held up my mauled right hand for his inspection.
Cyril wasn’t impressed. "Good luck with that. I’ve warned you not to donner okes in the face with your fist. Fok, man, use your open hand or elbow!"
Always impatient, he was already heading for the car park.
About the authors:
Bradley Steyn is a former government contractor specialising in risk mitigation and operational support within the US national security and defence arenas. He now lives in California in the US, where he works as a security consultant in Beverley Hills.
Mark Fine is a SA-born novelist specialising in historical fiction, social injustice and wildlife conservation. His work is inspired by moments in history that both entertain and inform readers.
Extract provided by Jacana Media