The law professor who guided the academic career of Gauteng Premier Mathole Motshekga and became a close friend had strong intelligence links and served as a front man for Renamo, the notorious Mozambican rebel movement backed by apartheid’s security establishment.
Professor André Thomashausen, a constitutional law expert based at Unisa, moved in Military Intelligence (MI) circles in the 1980s while Pretoria waged its destabilisation campaign in the frontline states. Thomashausen’s wife, Sonia, was an agent of the old National Intelligence Service (NIS), two well-placed sources claimed this week.
Motshekga, who was sworn in as premier of Gauteng on Monday, started working with Thomashausen at Unisa in 1986, the year Motshekga says he joined the African National Congress underground. The two remain close associates.
The Mail & Guardian last week reported allegations of Motshekga fraudulently administering donor funds. It appears that these allegations, as well as Motshekga’s relationship with Thomashausen—with its glaring security implications—may explain why senior ANC colleagues tried to block his accession to the premiership.
Thomashausen this week openly confirmed his association with Renamo: “If they were terrorist, you may as well call the ANC terrorist.’’ Asked whether he had worked with MI, he said flippantly: “Maybe I was a double agent. Just relax a bit. Things are not so black and white.”
Thomashausen later denied he or his wife could have been agents as they held foreign passports.
Motshekga completed a law degree at Unisa in the 1970s. He returned as researcher and lecturer in 1984 after stints at German and United States universities. Still at Unisa, he joined Thomashausen’s Institute of Foreign and Comparative Law in the late 1980s.
Under Thomashausen’s supervision, he ran the institute’s development law strategies (DLS) programme—a German-funded initiative that involved hosting conferences as platforms for the anti- apartheid movement. By then he had forged links with senior ANC members in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
During the same period, Thomas-hausen was acting as an adviser to Renamo chief Afonso Dhlakama and served as a vocal apologist for Renamo in South Africa. He attempted to counter Renamo’s image as a group of bandits by building its political machinery. José Caetano, a commentator on Mozambique, said: “Rhodesia formed Renamo as a sabotage team. South Africa took it over as a destabilising force ... Thomas-hausen was the missing link in building an intellectual capacity for Renamo.”
Thomashausen said he helped Motshekga set up DLS as a “front” for the ANC. Asked about any conflict between working with Renamo and the ANC, he said: “I worked with the ANC when one couldn’t and I brought peace in Mozambique. One needed to network.”
A former researcher at the institute, Tony Sanders, said this week that by 1991 the institute had been “turned by Thomashausen into something akin to a Military Intelligence front’‘. He said Motshekga, “fully aware of the situation’‘, stayed on and “could well have formed part of Thomashausen’s political and business network. To the best of my knowledge he still does.’‘
Motshekga left Thomashausen’s institute in 1992 to become deputy chair of the ANC in Gauteng. But he was awarded a Unisa law doctorate in 1995 and served as professor extraordinarius at the institute for a year, which ended last June.
The Thomashausens arrived in South Africa in 1982 from Germany, where André Thomashausen had helped set up an office for Renamo and started work on a constitution for the rebels. The following year he became head of the institute at Unisa. The couple nurtured links with South African intelligence personnel while he developed his role as Renamo’s link in South Africa.
His involvement in MI-backed causes is shown by his role in helping draw up a constitution for the Federal Independent Democratic Alliance. Led by black politician John Gogotya, now with the National Party, the defunct party is now known to have been a creation of the military. Thomashausen said he only found out about the intelligence link afterwards.
He advised Renamo during the protracted Mozambican peace talks, which started in Rome in 1990. Often the hardliner, he created a stir when he suggested weeks before Mozambique’s first multi-party election in 1994 that the poll be postponed as Renamo had run out of cash.
A former MI operative, insisting on the customary anonymity, this week said the Mozambican government complained in the run-up to that country’s elections that Thomas-hausen plotted to have Maputo’s Matola fuel depot blown up in an apparent bid to strengthen Renamo’s hand in the negotiations. “I saw intelligence reports about non-academic activities,” he said. Thomashausen said the Civil Co-operation Bureau hatched a plan to blow up the depot and that he had stopped it.
The operative claimed that until the early 1990s Thomashausen was close to MI, the South African agency that helped sustain Renamo’s terror campaign. But he said the relationship deteriorated as the Thomashausen couple’s loyalties became a matter of growing suspicion.
A top foreign affairs official in the 1980s said there was speculation at the time that Thomashausen had links with US intelligence and that the department did not “rule out” that Thomashausen was close to a South African intelligence agency.
Thomashausen also cultivated links with Angola’s Unita rebel movement, while the Inkatha Freedom Party’s controversial legal adviser, Mario Ambrosini, hired him as a consultant during South Africa’s constitutional talks in 1995. Thomas-hausen was denied an expert position on South Africa’s Constitutional Assembly—apparently because he refused to relinquish his German citizenship—over the objections of the IFP.
Thomashausen played down his wife’s association with NIS, saying she had worked as a “language trainer” at a unit frequented by NIS operatives. He criticised the M&G for trying to “slander” Motshekga, whom he said had an impeccable administrative record at Unisa.
Motshekga this week denied a close relationship with Thomas-hausen. His lawyer, Julian Meltz, said: “Motshekga’s association with Thomashausen was based on their shared academic positions. [They] had very different political ideas, objectives and beliefs. Academics having different political ideologies and beliefs is surely common.”
Thomashausen, however, said that after setting DLS up as a front for Motshekga and working with him for many years, “of course we are friends”. He denied that his institute had been an MI front.