Britain’s Special Air Services (SAS) unwittingly trained eManzimtoti bomber Andrew Zondo.
This is according to author Robert Wood, who told the Independent on Saturday that the ANC in exile sneaked members into the Tanzanian forces, who were being trained by the SAS, when a malaria crisis affected their Malanje camp, and mutinies arose in other Angolan camps.
Wood, who had a career in museums and is the son of a former security police officer who knew Zondo, has produced two books on the December 1985 bombing of the busy shopping centre based on documents and interviews he has gathered.
Out of Anger is about the blast and Aftershock is about the ongoing police investigation.
“Reading various accounts of the Amanzimtoti bombing, I noticed glaring errors and missing details of an event that had a catalytic impact on the lives of those in the shopping centre,” he said.
“I researched the incident to inform the historically-minded and dispel myths.
“My prime objective was to take the reader on a journey in the direction the facts pointed.”
Wood said he was determined not to write something that sounded like a dull, history book written by an academic.
“I wanted to write it in a way that would take the reader through the experience of what it was like to live in the 1980s and to allow the reader to know and feel some connection to the young Andrew Zondo as well as the police officers and the security forces who were left to deal with the chaos.”
He said he knew he would be walking a fine line.
Five people were killed and 40 were injured in the blast two days before Christmas in the crowded shopping centre.
“My goal was for the reader to know, understand, experience, and feel something from all perspectives in this story of the crumbling of the apartheid state.
“In light of the country’s latest upheaval, the subject deserves to be revisited as South Africans ponder the past, present and future of our country.”
Wood grew up in Durban and on the Upper South Coast and has always been very familiar with Toti.
His father was a police captain in the Special Branch of the apartheid police.
“At the time of the Amanzimtoti bombing, he was the senior policeman in charge of security-related matters on the South Coast.
“One person he dealt with was Andrew Zondo and those arrested for Operation Butterfly, an ANC initiative against apartheid, with which Zondo was aligned.
“Later he offered Andrew Zondo immunity from a death sentence in exchange for testifying against two others.”
Wood said he accumulated numerous documents and had access to people linked to his father’s career.
“I’ve been blessed to have been in touch with people who knew Andrew Zondo and were intimate with events,” said Wood.
“My objective was to record happenings as best as I could and not intervene as an author with my personal slant.
“Ultimately, the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.
“Some of the people had dealings with my father who had a solid reputation for fair dealings.
“Their trust in him was bestowed upon me.
“To back up certain claims, many photographs not in the public domain have been included.
“I have not used an acknowledgement section.”
The books contain more than 70 photographs.
He went on to say that most people talked freely with him and answered all questions from their point of view.
“Not everyone knows all the answers.
“My job as an author was to bring their recollections to life.
“Their memories gave the story a new dimension by offering a mix of their feelings and perspectives with the reality of the time.”
Wood added that emotions around the bomb blast remained high.
“Traumatic events in anyone’s life are not easily forgotten.
“Memories fade but have a habit of resurfacing.
“The chapters relating to the day of the explosion, and the ensuing court case, capture the views of those caught up in the explosion.
“From a writing point of view, conflict and drama turn pages, and there’s plenty of that tension and need for an end to the chaos of that time, which takes off in Aftershock.
“Both stories are filled with passion, intrigue, death, and moral questions, which haven’t been fully resolved in light of recent unrest.”
Wood begins the first part of the book at the beginning, and ends it with the hanging of Andrew Zondo and his two school friends, who were found guilty of killing Ben Langa, an ANC member in Pietermaritzburg.
“It was exactly one month from the day Andrew Zondo entered the country after receiving military training by the SAS in Tanzania, to the day he went to Amanzimtoti.
“Like many young South African soldiers who saluted train conductors on their first pass, he was naïve and still ‘lost in the moment’.
“He was an inexperienced 19-year-old instructor and not an operator, who tried to live up to expectations.
“After making a bad decision, everything went downhill.
“His choices were something that plagued him from the day he arrived, when he ran away from a renegade group he was tasked to train in uMlazi, and ended up living in Lamontville.
“He was really too young to die – a consideration not afforded to the five people who died in the Amanzimtoti explosion.”
Zondo was buried in Durban’s Red Hill Cemetery, as was Justice Ramon Leon, who sentenced him to death, according to Wood.
- Both new releases can be obtained from Amazon.com in either paperback or eBook format.
The Independent on Saturday