||23 July 2006 12:00
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
Kevin Woods: 'There is a fine definition between torture and harsh interrogation. I am not proud of it, but it was part of the war.'
Double agent. Apartheid spy. Death row inmate...
Kevin: 'They lock you in the cell naked and throw you a few blankets. You can stay awake all night if you want or all day, it's all the same thing.'
Artist and father...
Kevin: 'My daughters were 11 and five, four-and-a-half years old when I was arrested.'
After 19 years in a Zimbabwean jail, Kevin Woods has many stories to tell.
As a high-ranking agent in President Robert Mugabe's Intelligence agency, the CIO, Kevin was witness to slaughter.
Kevin: 'The Ndebele people were butchered by the 5th Brigade terribly.'
The 5th Brigade was a squad trained in North Korea. They were employed by the ZANU PF government to quell Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU dissidents in Matabeleland.
Kevin: 'It was just pure savagery. They would shoot ten people to get the information from the 11th.'
20 000 were massacred...
Kevin: 'And cruelness beyond belief.'
Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): 'Did you see them operating?'
Kevin: 'I didn't see them operating, but I saw the immediate aftermath of their activities many times. Disposing of bodies down mine shafts; taking truck loads of bodies off to Que Que - there was a mine there that they used to go and throw people down.'
Derek: 'So you knew exactly what was going on?'
Officially it was kept secret.
Robert Mugabe - March 1985: 'They are telling all sorts of stories regarding the alleged atrocities perpetrated by the 5th Brigade. But they fail to prove them.'
Kevin: 'They had their orders. They didn't just go ape on their own. They had their orders and they knew what they were doing.'
Mugabe: 'True there have been one or two incidents, but wherever you have operations you are bound to have one or two untoward incidents. But not the mass graves they talked about. Where are they? You travel the whole length and breadth of Matabeleland and you won't find a single mass grave.'
Kevin: 'We had to do the security briefings for President Mugabe when he came to Matabeleland.'
Derek: 'So you actually reported what was going on to Robert Mugabe?'
Kevin: 'Yes I reported on that and I said, 'This is bad news... this is going to cause international outcry'. I was told in no uncertain terms that the international repercussions had nothing to do with me.'
Kevin had secrets of his own - while working in Robert Mugabe's office, he also served as a double agent for the Apartheid government.
Kevin: 'My firm belief was that the ANC's policy of taking the war to the streets was wrong.'
Derek: 'Operation Drama was a South African-backed military operation aimed at destabilising the new independent government of Zimbabwe. Kevin Woods was part of that operation.'
Kevin: 'I had access to the intelligence of where the ANC people were staying. They would come down here and place the land mines or do some sort of operation and then they would return to Zimbabwe. And I passed that intelligence through the channels and it would get to the operations side and they would take whatever action was deemed necessary.'
Kevin was part of a lethal unit of the CCB based in Zimbabwe. The unit - allegedly code named Juliet - was headed up by Kit Bawden. Other members included his brother Guy, cousin Barry and ex-Rhodesian soldier Michael Smith. On the periphery was policeman Phillip Conjwayo.
The unit's work includes a 1987 bomb blast that nearly killed ANC sympathiser Jeremy Brickhill.
Kevin: 'I knew about that after the event because Kit told me about it. I didn't supply the intelligence. They must have had somebody else in CIO in Harare who gave them the intelligence on Brickhill.
The bomb was planted under his car in a busy shopping centre. 18 people were injured - Jeremy barely escaped with his life.
Jeremy Brickhill: 'I lost my spleen, badly damaged my left leg, broke several ribs. I was in a terrible mess. It took me eight months to learn to walk again.'
Kevin: 'It's sad that he got so badly injured. But he is also lucky to an extent that he wasn't killed. It was a war. He was involved in a war. He was one of the players.'
Derek: 'It says here that one of the first tasks for this group Juliet was the murder of Oliver Tambo. Were you ever aware of this plan?'
Kevin: 'No Derek, no.'
But he does have intimate knowledge of another attack in the '80s.
Kevin: 'That was a house in Bulawayo that was being used as a safe house for the guerrillas from the ANC. So I passed that intelligence through to the other side of the branch, who decided to attack the house.'
Kit Bawden and Michael Smith were alleged to have rigged the car with explosives. Phillip Conjwayo hired an innocent man to deliver it.
Kevin: 'He was told to take the vehicle, drop it at the house and blow the hooter so that the guys who were going to detonate the bomb knew that the vehicle had been delivered. But he was told to drop it at the house and then bugger off. And for some reason... I don't know what... he got there, blew the hooter and sat in the vehicle. And the guys gave him about five or ten minutes to get away from the vehicle.'
Derek: 'So you are actually convinced that the driver was told to leave the vehicle after hooting?'
Kevin: 'A hundred percent. There was no need to kill the guy. He didn't know me. He didn't know the guys who were carrying out the operation. There was no need to kill the guy. Drop off the vehicle and go. I mean, we were not bloodthirsty killers just to blow the guy up for nothing. But of course the court found that we were bloodthirsty killers and that he meant nothing, that he was just part of the operation. But it wasn't like that at all.'
Derek: 'Three trained soldiers skilled in covert operations and intelligence were caught out by something relatively simple: a car number plate.'
The clue led detectives to Phillip Conjwayo. A week after the blast police descended on Kevin's farm.
Kevin: 'Car loads. There must have been a hundred people running around with AKs, Uzis. I was arrested at my house. My wife was arrested. My two daughters were arrested.'
The girls were four and ten at the time, their brother was in South Africa. But Storm still remembers the guns.
Storm Reid: 'I didn't understand the whole situation because, for the rest of that day, we were in a little room. And of course nothing was said.'
Kevin: 'I begged them just please leave my daughters with the neighbours. And of course that was when the threats implicit started: your daughters are going also.'
Storm: 'The last sort of image I had of my dad was the cream Peugeot I think he was in, and just looking back as we went down the main drag as we headed into town.'
Kevin: 'They arrived on the Tuesday morning with the straight direct threat: we are bringing your wife here and we are going to torture her in front of you. We know the story anyway. And there is no point in getting your head stuck in the bag of water and tortured when you know that you are going to have to go through that and tell them the same story. By then I knew, 48 hours are up. I knew that Smith, Bawden would be out of the country, so I said, 'Okay I spoke to them'. Two or three hours later I was shocked, devastated to hear that Barry had been arrested at his farm. I mean, do me a favour, you are operating in such a tight clique - we were such a small unit and it is serious stuff and this is not just smuggling or something. People are getting killed. One guy gets arrested from the group and you just sit at your house.'
Kit Bawden had escaped across the border, but Barry Bawden, Michael Smith and Philip Conjwayo all ended up in shackles.
Derek: 'Convicted of murder, Kevin and his two accomplices were introduced to death row at Chikarubi. Their next mission was basically to survive.'
Kevin: 'On death row you can't do anything. They lock you in your cell with your Bible and that is how you stay.'
They spent the first two-and-a-half years locked up naked, without ever seeing the sun.
Kevin: 'If I had to start again and had to go through five years of that, I would just hang myself in the cell because it was long... just sitting there, walking up and down in a cell. Good grief! I don't know how many times I counted every notch or cranny in the concrete. It would be a big thing if a little black spider would come and sit on the hinge in the cell and you catch one of the fish-moths and spend hours just trying to feed this fish-moth to the spider. It was a big thing. There was nothing else to do.'
Derek: 'Kevin, at any time did you feel that you had lost your mind?'
Kevin: 'Ja you have to keep a tight grip on yourself. The barrage on you just never ends - the stress, you can't sleep, the lousy food and noise. Sometimes it gets close. I wrote to people and I said I don't know if I am still sane, if I ever was.'
Derek: 'Kevin, the other side of the coin is that you had been found guilty of sabotage and the murder of an innocent civilian.'
Kevin: 'Sure. That is true but there was a war on. There were people here who were found guilty of sabotage and the murders of many innocent people. But it was political, Derek.'
In 1993 the Supreme Court commuted their death sentences of the Harare Three to life imprisonment. It was almost as hopeless.
Kevin: 'Everything is grey in Chikarubi. I think it is some sort of psychological thing that they make prisons grey, because grey is such a depressing colour.'
But Kevin found a way to bring some colour into his cell.
Kevin: 'I just started drawing these things just to pass the time.'
Derek: 'There is certainly a lot of colour.'
Kevin: 'These sunsets especially are a favourite of mine because you can just let your mind go free back to times that you can remember and sunsets and places.'
Derek: 'More than a decade ago former president Nelson Mandela requested the release of all political prisoners across our borders, including the so-called Harare Three.'
The request fell on deaf ears. Conjwayo, Smith and Woods were left to languish in prison for another 12 years.
Kevin: 'The others were not a factor, because the factor was that I used to work for Mugabe and Mugabe hated me and wanted to keep me in jail forever.'
As a high-ranking officer in Mugabe's Intelligence Bureau the CIO, Kevin just knew too much.
Kevin: 'I am sure President Mugabe was given advice - 'Don't let Woods go'. It would have been a lot easier for all of them if I had died in prison. The 5th Brigade Commander wouldn't want me outside of prison talking about all the nasty things that these guys were doing.'
Derek: 'The stories of atrocities, the death of thousands of men, women and children in Matabeleland took months, if not years, to hit the headlines. What has never been highlighted is South Africa's involvement.'
Derek: 'Who were Super ZAPU?'
Kevin: 'They were a group of dissidents, former guerrillas, recruited and trained in South Africa to stir it up that side.'
Derek: 'By doing what?'
Kevin: 'Just destabilising the whole area - joining with the dissidents... attacking, fighting with the dissidents.'
Armed with Apartheid government money and ammunition, the Super ZAPU were particularly brutal.
Derek: 'You saw the aftermath?'
Kevin: 'Ja sure, lots of times. I attended just about every white farmer who was murdered. That includes when Super ZAPU, the South African little addition to this tune, and when they came in and also started killing white farmers, which was a bit tough to handle. I would have thought that they had been given instructions from down here, of which I had been assured that they had been given instructions not to kill the white farmers, but just try to get together with the dissidents to really stir up the pot.'
Derek: 'With your position in the CIO, do you in any way feel responsible for some of those massacres?'
Kevin: 'It was out of my control. There was nothing I could have done to have stopped it.'
Derek: 'Could you have exposed the South African element?'
Kevin: 'I could have, but I was involved in the system then, so I would have been exposing myself.'
Derek: 'There are still some things that you won't talk about?'
Kevin: 'Ja I am not going to involve new people and new names and other scenes that were never disclosed or investigated.'
Derek: 'Why is that?... the war is over.'
Kevin: 'It would be very unfair. I have committed my crimes, I have been punished for those crimes. My slate is clean. I can't now come and start messing up other people's lives with that kind of stuff.'
Kevin got his own life back just a few weeks ago. But, when he and his co-accused were taken off to prison bosses, they thought it could only be bad news.
Kevin: 'And I am sitting on the chair with my heart beating out of my chest. And he is talking all sorts of rubbish about this and that and you guys have been here a long time and all sorts of nonsense and that. I am expecting, ' and now what?' And he said, 'The President has granted you clemency'. It was such a feeling.'
But nothing could top the feeling of being reunited with his children.
Kevin: 'I lived nineteen years for that. It was a blessing. Just to be called Dad was a big thing.'
Storm [emotional]: 'When you are little, there is this huge persona, and when they come out they are not as big and strong as you imagined them, or thought they would be.'
Kevin: 'The emotions were tearful, but it was fantastic.'
The road ahead is uncertain - building a life lost will be tough.
Derek: 'Do you think you deserve sympathy?'
Kevin: 'No I don't think so. I was grown up - I knew what I was doing. I walked into this with both eyes open. I don't deserve sympathy.'
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.