South African troops pulling out of Angola in 1988. The SAIMR militia claimed to be anti-communist. Photograph: Sipa/Rex
A South African militia that claimed to be behind the murder of a UN chief was involved in deadly work across the continent, its members say
Keith Maxwell, the self-declared “commodore” of the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), liked to dress up on special occasions in the garish costume of a 18th-century admiral, with a three-cornered hat, brass buttons and a cutlass. Ordinary members of his organisation were expected to show up in crisp naval whites.
Gathered together in upmarket restaurants, or the quiet of the Wemmer Pan naval base in south-central Johannesburg, they had the air of eccentric history buffs. Maxwell talked about the group’s roots in a Napoleonic-era treasure-hunting syndicate, and told outsiders it was still focused on deep-sea exploration.
But appearances were deceptive. Beneath the bizarre trappings lurked a powerful mercenary outfit that members claim was entwined with the apartheid state and offered soldiers for hire across the continent.
“It was clandestine operations. We were involved in coups, taking over countries for other leaders,” said Alexander Jones, who has detailed his years as an intelligence officer with the group. SAIMR’s leaders described themselves as “anti-communist” to him at the time but the group was underpinned by racism, he said. “We were trying to retain the white supremacy on the African continent.”