Equatorial Guinea ‘coup’ trial to start on Monday

Mail & Guardian Online , South Africa
Aug 23 2004

Equatorial Guinea ‘coup’ trial to start on Monday

Fienie Grobler | Johannesburg

advertisementThe trial of eight South Africans accused of plotting a
coup d’état in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is due to open in Malabo on
Monday with claims of torture and denial of due process casting
doubts over the proceedings.

The eight men detained at the notorious Black Beach prison in Malabo
along with six Armenians and a German — who died in custody — were
arrested early March for conspiring to topple leader Teodoro Obiang

The eight South Africans are to go on trial along with the six
Armenians on Monday but South African officials said that the group
saw their lawyers for the first time on Friday.

Family members say the men have been severely tortured and even
though the official cause of German Gerhard Eugen Nershz’s death is
cerebral malaria, Amnesty International has said he “died on March
17, apparently as a result of torture”.

Three more men have since contracted malaria. Two have recovered but
a third is still ill.

The men have for the largest part of their incarceration been held
incommunicado, according to Amnesty International, and two wives from
South Africa were only allowed to visit them for the first time
earlier this month.

“The lawyers have just seen them today [Friday] and this was the
first contact they had,” said Billy Masetlha, advisor to South
African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki, after a meeting with Obiang in July, announced his government
would send a team to Malabo, on request from Equatorial Guinea, “to
assist them in understanding what would represent a free and fair and
just trial”, Masetlha said.

“We have been pushing them to give access to the lawyers, however it
happened too late. The case is on Monday and clearly a case of that
level would need some preparation.

“From my simple reading of the situation… I would think it would be
possible that the lawyers go to the court and ask can you please give
us more time to study the charges, consult the clients, prepare the
documents,” said Masethla.

The 15 men arrested in Equatorial Guinea were nabbed two days after
Zimbabwean authorities detained 70 suspected mercenaries at Harare
airport following a tip-off from the South African government.

The Equatorial Guinea men, led by South African Nick du Toit, were
allegedly an advance group responsible for the preparations of the
coup d’état before the arrival of the 70 suspected soldiers of
fortune who took off from South Africa and stopped in Harare to pick
up weapons.

“I am very, very worried about this court case. My first name is
fear,” said Belinda du Toit, the wife of Nick du Toit.

“My logic tells me that you cannot have a trial like this without
legal representation. For cases like these you need months and months
to prepare. I do not think it could be a fair trial,” said Du Toit.

The men who are awaiting judgement in Harare say they were on their
way to guard diamond mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo while
the Equatorial Guinea detainees deny any involvement in the alleged

Nick du Toit (48), owns fishery and air-transport businesses in
Equatorial Guinea.

He is a former member of the South African police’s elite Special
Task Force unit and has been linked to Executive Outcomes, a
mercenary outfit that closed down in the 90s when the African
National Congress government outlawed mercenary

Du Toit is also said to have good relations with the soldiers of the
former so-called “Buffalo Battalion”, a mercenary unit created by the
apartheid government in South Africa in the 1970s to fight in Namibia
and Angola.

Five of the South African men detained with Du Toit, all of them of
Angolan descent, were members of the Buffalo Battalion.

Also arrested with Du Toit is Bones Boonzaaier, another a former
Special Task Force member. He is said to be a business associate of
Du Toit and took care of the logistics of his companies in Equatorial

The third man in detention is Mark Schmidt. He has no military
background and was employed by Du Toit as a cook.