Friday March 22, 2019
The atrocities of South African apartheid have yet to reveal themselves in full. That is the reality set forth by a seemingly innocuous documentary which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Cold Case Hammarskjöld explores the death of former UN secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld in a mysterious plane crash near Ndola, Zambia in 1961. Who knows what filmmakers Mads Brügger (Danish) and Göran Björkdahl (Swedish) were expecting to find when they embarked on their journey to make the film, but what matters is where the story took them: to someone who would fuel the flames of a well-concealed conspiracy relating to the origins of the HIV/AIDS virus in Southern Africa.
Alexander Jones is a former mercenary who used to work for South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), which, according to the New African, already had a reputation for masterminding coups and other sorts of violence across the continent in the 1970s and ’80s. The research done by the Danish and Swedish filmmakers brought them to Jones who was more than willing to speak about the work he did over three decades ago. Among his revelations: Jones told the filmmakers that he and his SAIMR colleagues deliberately spread the HIV virus in Southern Africa to wipe out Black people.
The entire claim reads like something out of the worst possible version of science fiction you can find. Yet what is often omitted from apartheid’s violent legacy, is the chemical warfare inflicted on Black South(ern) Africans by the South African government, an institutional system of racial apartness built under the influences of the segregated United States and Nazi Germany. The sudden and pandemic existence of HIV sparked fear borne from the confusion brought by the unknown yet deadly disease. Modern medicine has tamed the diseases ravaging of the Southern African community, while also bringing us much closer to a potential cure.
That said, there were always questions surrounding the virus’ spread, and now Jones’ claims has provided the closest thing to an answer. His why, specifically, was that “[We] were at war. Black people in South Africa were the enemy,” Jones tells the filmmakers. “We were involved in Mozambique, spreading the AIDS virus through medical conditions.”
SAIMR was launched under President P.W Botha, as an extension of the Chemical Biowarfare Program (CBP) which, according to Quartz Africa, was responsible for producing various bio assassination tools such from poisoned beer and anthrax, to poison clothes and exploding letters. The project was headed by Wouter Basson, infamously branded Dr. Death for his work as the head of “Project Coast”, the name given to the program. SAIMR was run by Keith Maxwell, described as South Africa’s version of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted inhumane experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Jones confesses that he and his colleagues acted under the command of Maxwell, whose personal ideologies advocated for a majority white South Africa by the turn of the century. Maxwell had no medical qualifications but ran clinics in the poorest Black neighborhoods of Johannesburg during the height of apartheid. According to Jones, he would administer the virus under the guise of vaccines. “What easier way to get a guinea pig than you live in an Apartheid system?” Jones says in the film. “Black people have got no rights, they need medical treatment. There is a white ‘philanthropist’ coming in and saying, ‘You know, I will open up these clinics and I will treat you.’ Meantime [he is] actually the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The sheer thought of it conjures absolute terror, akin to that elicited by the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments or COINTELPRO. Such life-threatening vindictiveness seems far-fetched even when it is closer to the truth than what is comfortable. Especially considering that according to SAIMR documents dug up by the filmmakers, it was an organization that operated with the support of CIA and British intelligence. One among the million reason this fact is problematic is that, because letters with SAIMR’s official letterhead were found suggesting the CIA and British intelligence had agreed with the nefarious plan, were among the reasons that Hammarskjöld, the film’s original subject, needed to be removed.
Naturally, the two powers denied such a thing happened, which is the same treatment Jones claims he received from Western media outlets like The New York Times, which stated that the “notion that HIV is a man-made virus introduced as population control has been floating around for decades. Before the conspiracy theory took hold in Africa, it appeared as part of disinformation campaigns from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” So according to the Times, Russia is to blame. One would have thought the Cold War ended decades ago but I guess the Russians are evergreen when it comes to being a villain in the West.
Jones’ claims are being easily dismissed by the West, but the fact is that there is a trail of bodies to substantiate his claim. One of them being Dagmar Feil, a marine biologist and recruit for SAIMR who was killed outside her home in 1990. Dagmar’s family have been trying to find the truth behind her death for years, even going to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in hopes that someone would confess to her murder for amnesty. The family was turned away. “My sister came to me, and she said she needed to confide in me,” her brother Karl Feil told the filmmakers. “She sat with me and said she thinks they are going to kill her.” She said that three or four others in her team had already been murdered, but when asked what team, Dagmar said: “she couldn’t tell me”.
Karl also remembered that, “The topic of AIDS research came up several times, quite loosely in conversations, I never put two and two together.” Dagmar asked Karl to go to church with her instead states the New African. She was dead weeks later. Jones mentioned Dagmar, telling the filmmakers, “She progressed and she became part of the inner circle for operations. She went to Mozambique to fulfill her obligations and…word got out that she was going to testify.”
There could always be more proof. Always. What we cannot ignore is that Jones has nothing to gain by admitting any of this. Population control is a go-to tactic for almost all white supremacist governments steeped in tyranny and nationalism. If there was a handbook, an entire section would be devoted to it. Many speak of the racial divide in South Africa as if the white nationalists who instilled apartheid didn’t manufacture that divide, down to the biology. We can only overcome it once we’ve seen it whole.
I’ll never listen to someone who is quick and callous enough to tell a Black South African to “get over” apartheid when they don’t know or actively deny the pure evil it entailed. We cannot heal wounds we don’t understand, and we cannot heal wounds at all by pretending they are not there. Keith Maxwell died in 2006. Jones is still alive, as are many apartheid-era soldiers who’ve received amnesty for their actions, though one can wonder whether their foundational ideologies melted away with their guilt under the law.