Athlone Bomb pair (1989):

Four limpet mine attacks in the Peninsula were planned for the evening of Sunday 23 July 1989 as part of an anti-election bombing campaign by MK. Magistrate’s courts were targeted as they were to be used for election nominations the following day. Mines exploded at a police station in Mitchells Plain and at the Somerset West magistrate’s court. At the Bellville magistrate’s court security forces intervened to prevent the blast. The fourth mine, intended for the Athlone magistrate’s court, detonated behind public toilets opposite the court. The bodies of MK operatives and youth activists Ms Coline Williams (22) and Mr Robert Waterwitch of the Ashley Kriel unit were found at the scene.

Subsequent inquests found that they had died as the result of an explosion. While initial impressions suggested that the operation had simply gone awry, a number of questions have remained concerning the circumstances of their deaths. Suspicions existed that the explosives had been ‘zero timed’ for immediate detonation.

229 The Commission was unable to make a conclusive finding in this matter. However, the Commission obtained evidence that security forces had agents in or very close to the unit concerned. This fact raises questions regarding the operation and the deaths of the two operatives.

230 Firstly, the Commission finds that youth activist Mr Geoffrey Brown was an informant for the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Brown, who was also involved in Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) political structures, was a close friend of Robert Waterwitch and met with him virtually on a daily basis. Brown was handled by National Intelligence Service (NIS) member Johan Hattingh and, under the guise of writing political analysis pieces, received large sums of money. Brown received his last grading one month before the incident. He claims he was an unwitting agent; Mr Hattingh’s testimony concurs with this.

231 The day after the fatal explosion, Brown was involved in removing weapons and explosives from Waterwitch’s home. These were not handed over to the Ashley Kriel detachment but rather to persons uninvolved with military structures and others outside of their discipline. These weapons are still not accounted for although it is known that the AK-47 taken from the Waterwitch house was used by a Mitchells Plain activist who was part of an unofficial ‘security detail’ for President Mandela when he visited Mitchell’s Plain.

232 Secondly, Commission investigations have established that the unit was infiltrated by Military Intelligence. One Aristedes Spannelis of the Directorate of Covert Collections (DCC) tasked by SADF Western Province Command has confirmed that he was the handler of a source (one Shane Oliver alias Perry alias Ian) inside the Ashley Kriel detachment and that information received from this source was passed on to the security police. Through Oliver it may have been possible for the security forces to gain access to the group’s weaponry or logistics and conduct surveillance on its membership. The possibility of rigging explosives cannot be discounted. It is notable that at least two other explosive devices used in the simultaneous raid did not go off or were defused by bomb experts. Ms Venessa Rhoda November, who met with Coline Williams immediately before embarking on their respective operations, and Mr Shamiel Isaacs were compelled to abandon their attempted laying of a limpet mine at the Heideveld rent office when the device appeared faulty.

233 In the case of Shane Oliver it is known that on one occasion security forces substituted a limpet mine for one filled with clay, in a ‘credibility operation’ for Oliver without endangering him. Instances of security force tampering with MK weaponry have been established in several cases, in particular altering the timing devices in order to eliminate the operative.

234 Further, it is noted that certain of Williams’s personal effects were returned to the family completely undamaged by the explosion. One post mortem report could not conclude with absolute certainty that the victims were alive at the time of the explosion. Lastly, Williams stated on the day of her death that she believed she was being followed.