they killed dulcie

a podcast series by open secrets and sound africa

On 29 March 1988 five bullets ended the life of South African freedom fighter Dulcie September. She was imprisoned, driven into exile and by the 1980’s she spearheaded the anti-apartheid efforts in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg from a small office in Paris. Why was she killed? Who is the shadowy network that profited from her murder? Why do her killers roam free?

They Killed Dulcie is made by Sound Africa and Open Secrets. The podcast draws from research by Open Secrets for the book Apartheid Guns and Money: A tale of profit.

This series is made possible through the support of our funders: The Claude Leon Foundation; Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southern Africa; Joffe Charitable Trust; Luminate; Open Society Foundations & Open Society Foundation for South Africa and Hindenburg Systems.

episode 1: the scene of the crime

This is the first episode of a podcast series about Dulcie September’s life and assassination. The epic story explores the life of a struggle hero who appears to have been erased. Her murder leads us to a network of arms dealers, spies, politicians, corporations and bankers who continue to profit from her murder.

The episode begins in Cape Town in the 1930s, and ends on a staircase in Paris more than 50 years later. It sets the scene for an eight part podcast series that winds its way around the world and ends in 2019.

episode 2: the spies

On the wall of a grey Parisian apartment building, a small plaque commemorates the life of activist Dulcie September. She lived in the building at the time of her murder in 1988. The plaque reads: “Dulcie September was killed by apartheid.” 

The second episode of the podcast series continues where episode one left off. The journey begins in a Parisian suburb, but ends in Johannesburg, where former Apartheid era spy Craig Williamson opens the door to the murky world of espionage.

Dulcie’s childhood friend, activist Betty van der Heyden recounts the story of Dulcie’s emergence as an activist, she explains how what started as a “study group” became a militant organisation with the intention to overthrow the government.

episode 3: the double agent

In the third episode, we delve into the world of informants and double agents and how the apartheid security forces used them to infiltrate the liberation movements in South Africa and abroad. It remains a sensitive topic in South African politics today – some comrades were also collaborators.

Following the assassination of Dulcie September in Paris in 1988, the ANC moved swiftly to install a new man in her old job. Solly Smith, also known as Samuel Khanyile, was to continue Dulcie’s work. But Solly Smith served two masters who were at war with one another.

Was a double agent placed in her office immediately after her murder to undo all her work in investigating the sinister world of politicians, spies, arms dealers and bankers?

episode 4: prisons of the past

In the fourth episode of the podcast, the time has come to look at the evidence. What was Dulcie investigating when she was killed? We dust off archival documents found by Open Secrets that provide important clues.

These documents once buried in archives across the world help us understand the secret network of intelligence agents, arms dealers and bankers, who made their fortunes by arming and sustaining the apartheid government.

We also find Dulcie September’s personal notes not seized by intelligence agencies and double agents. Through scribbles and notes we begin to understand how Dulcie was investigating the murky networks of apartheid profiteers which for far too long have remained unexposed.

episode 5: the arms money machine

For almost two decades starting in the 1970’s the South African embassy in Paris was the centre of a large-scale sanctions busting operation. It was connected to the arms dealers, spies and banks that formed part of the arms money machine. In episode five They Killed Dulcie, we find out if this top secret operation was connected to the murder of Dulcie September.

On the banks of the river Seine, the South African embassy in Paris was a common site for anti-apartheid demonstrations. Unbeknownst to the activists outside, an entire floor of the embassy housed Armscor staff running a sophisticated sanctions busting operation. They armed the Apartheid security forces to the teeth. Moving the cash to buy guns required the complicity of powerful European banks who profited from their role in the arms money machine.

The evidence suggests that Dulcie September was investigating parts of this sinister machinery shortly before her murder. If she had succeeded, the consequence would have been dire for plutocrats, bankers, and politicians alike.

episode 6: woman in exile

Dulcie September’s life was shaped by struggle against injustice. As a freedom fighter, she boldly confronted gender based discrimination, even amongst her allies.

In this episode we take a deeper look at the discrimination Dulcie September’s faced and reflect on the experiences of women in the struggle for South Africa’s freedom. We hear from writers and thinkers and fighters.

Dulcie September’s role in the struggle has been erased by many. The same can be said of the apartheid supporting Belgian businessman, banker and politician André Vlerick. He was at the centre of the arms money machine – yet his legacy is still celebrated today. We walk the streets in Belgian and ask why?

bonus episode: dangerous goods

In this episode, we unveil the murky world behind the Danish shipping industry’s pristine façade. In Dulcie’s handwritten notes, Danish ships and companies are exposed as integral to the apartheid regime’s arms money machinery. We tell the story of these companies, and their extensive role in arming the apartheid regime in contravention of UN sanctions.

In the late 1970s, complaints from crew members on Danish ships kickstarted a union-led investigation into illegal arms smuggling to apartheid South Africa on Danish vessels. This episode of They Killed Dulcie tells the story of an evasive shipowner and the seafarers who joined the anti-apartheid struggle.

The Seafarer’s Union begins an investigation that takes them across the world to find evidence that disproves the claims of ethical behaviour by the Danish shipping industry.

episode 7: impunity?

The final episode of They Killed Dulcie takes a critical look at what happened to the investigations of Dulcie September’s murder. So pervasive is the impunity for the economic crimes that sustained apartheid, that Dulcie September’s tenacious struggle for freedom was abruptly ended without redress. Why were victims like Dulcie forgotten, and why were the perpetrators allowed to go free?

Before her murder, Dulcie September was investigating the global networks that financed and armed the apartheid regime. So far, They Killed Dulcie has explored why she was assassinated and looked at the corporations, spies and arms dealers who may have had a hand in Dulcie’s murder.

As will be seen in the podcast, some of the same corporations Dulcie was investigating have continued to do business with the post-apartheid government. Why were Dulcie September’s comrades, today’s leaders, so eager to make friends of their old enemies? Dulcie, however, has been erased from South Africa’s history books, though not entirely from our memories.  They Killed Dulcie but they could not erase her.