Monday, November 23, 2009

Five years of hell in an African prison

This is a follow-up posting on my previous article, “Miraculous release from prison in Equatorial Guinea”. The story concerns the release of Simon Mann and four South African mercenaries, who were pardoned for attempting the overthrow of the tiny oil-rich, African country of Equatorial Guinea on 8 March 2004. The coup unravelled before it even began, and Mann, including a planeload of other mercenaries, were arrested in Zimbabwe. The men spent time in the notorious Black Beach prison in Equatorial Guinea.

One of the released men, Niek du Toit, has now come forward to tell his tale. In an exclusive interview with the Afrikaans Newspaper, Rapport, he talks about the horrendous physical and mental torture they endured at the hands of their captors, the covert murder of one of the detainees, and also, --- among many other atrocities, the mysterious death of their lawyer a few months after their trial began. Du Toit also alleges that South Africa's intelligence agencies knew about the planned coup six months before it took place.

SA Government knew of coup plot - Du Toit
Published in: Legalbrief Today

South Africa's intelligence agencies knew about the planned coup in Equatorial Guinea at least six months before it took place in March 2004.

But they failed to do anything stop it and gave it their tacit approval, freed mercenary Niek du Toit claims. Du Toit, the plot's point-man, told Rapport that he had planned to 'walk away' from the plot but was persuaded that South Africa wanted it to go ahead and would take no action against him and his co-conspirators. The former veteran of wars in Angola, Namibia, Sierre Leone and Liberia said the plot was 'compromised' from the start by government informers, spies and leaks. 'We were under the impression that if it did finally take place, we would have some support from the government... We were covered, we didn't have to worry very much.' Both Simon Mann, the former British SAS officer who masterminded the coup attempt, and Du Toit's close friend and business partner Henri van der Westhuizen assured him that they had 'inside information' that the South African Government would not act against them.
Full report in Rapport (English)

The trial itself was a farce, according to Du Toit, who also believes the attorney representing them was murdered. Rapport quotes Du Toit as saying they were allowed on 20 minutes to consult with their attorney before the trial. A few months after the trial began, Fernando Mico Nsue was dead. The official cause of death was given as malaria. Du Toit said they were pressured to sign a confession on 11 October 2004, so they called in Nsue. 'He came there and started negotiating...it was 23:00 and he was 100%. The next day we heard he died in hospital. It is a bit quick for malaria.'
Full report in Rapport (in Afrikaans)


On the conditions in Black Beach Prison, Du Toit said their hands and feet had been shackled for more than five years during which they existed in a filthy, dark 'death cell' without any sanitation. His handcuffs were locked so tightly that they had to remove them with a hammer and chisel, he told Rapport. Some of them were hanged on a pole and given electric shocks, while the German Gerhard Merz's heart gave in, according to Du Toit. 'They burnt him (Merz) with cigarettes,' Du Toit told the paper. After severe abuse, Merz's body was thrown in front of the prisoners. The government of Equatorial Guinea announced Merz had died of malaria.
Full report in Rapport (in Afrikaans)

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