Neels van Tonder

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Person.png Neels van TonderRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(soldier, spook)
General van Tonder.jpg
Former Head of South African Defence Force Military Intelligence

Major-General Cornelius "Neels" van Tonder is the former Head of Military Intelligence of the South African Defence Force in apartheid South Africa. Van Tonder was responsible for all covert international operations - particularly those involving revolutionary movements such as RENAMO and UNITA - and was able to make such decisions without reference to the State Security Council for approval.[1] He had contacts at the highest level in both Britain[2] and France.[3]

In evidence uncovered from the dirty tricks operation Longreach, which was funded by SADF Military Intelligence, General van Tonder is shown to have authorised Major Craig Williamson to carry out the assassination of Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme in February 1986. Van Tonder is also suspected of prime responsibility for the plane crash in which Samora Machel president of Mozambique was killed in October 1986[4], and for targeting UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988.[5]

Lockerbie booking

Neels van Tonder was a member of Pik Botha's South African delegation that was allegedly booked to travel on Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988. According to Allan Francovich's film "The Maltese Double Cross":

"The South Africans booked on Pan Am Flight 103 cancelled just before departure. Along with Pik Botha, General Malan the Defence Minister, and General van Tonder, Head of the Secret Service, BOSS, and other senior government officials.
"Botha, Malan and van Tonder confirm this change in travel arrangement to British businessman Tiny Rowland. They tell him the source of the information was of the kind that could not be dismissed.
"Botha rebooks on the earlier flight Pan Am 101. General van Tonder and two other members of BOSS cancel their trip altogether."[6]

False claim

Allan Francovich's claim that Pik Botha's party had been booked on the Lockerbie flight was shown to be false by the now retired South African MP Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party. In a letter to a British Lockerbie victim’s family dated 18 July 1996, Mr Eglin wrote of questions he had put to South African Justice Minister Dullah Omar in the National Assembly. On 5 June 1996, Mr Eglin asked Mr Omar if Pik Botha and his entourage:

"had any plans to travel on this flight (Pan Am Flight 103) or had reservations for this flight; if so, why were the plans changed?"

In reply in the National Assembly on 12 June 1996, Justice Minister Omar stated he had been informed by the former minister of foreign affairs (Pik Botha) that shortly before finalising their booking arrangements for travel from Heathrow to New York, they learned of an earlier flight from London to New York: namely, Pan Am Flight 101. They consequently were booked and travelled on this flight to New York. Mr Eglin went on to write in his letter to the Lockerbie victim’s family:

"Since then I have done some more informal prodding. This has led me to the person who made the reservations on behalf of the South African foreign minister Pik Botha and his entourage. This person assures me that he and no-one else was responsible for the reservations, and the reservation made in South Africa for the South African group was originally made on Pan Am 101, departing London at 11:00 on 21 December 1988. It was never made on Pan Am 103 and consequently was never changed. He made the reservation on Pan Am 101 because it was the most convenient flight connecting with South African Airways Flight SA 234 arriving at Heathrow at 07:20 on 21 December 1988."

Mr Eglin gave the victim’s family the assurance that he had 'every reason to trust the person referred to' since he had been given a copy of 'rough working notes and extracts from his personal diary of those days.' In his letter Mr Eglin wrote:

"In the circumstances, I have to accept that an assertion that the reservations of the South African group were either made or changed as a result of warnings that might have been received, is not correct."[7]

See also


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Lockerbie Bombing and my Reinstatement in HM Diplomatic Serviceletter29 January 1997Patrick HaseldineFormer diplomat Patrick Haseldine writes to former Prime Minister James Callaghan
Document:Olof Palme — South African Spies Likely Murdered Sweden Prime MinisterArticle12 March 2018Ludwig De BraeckeleerTop Secret Apartheid Intelligence Report says that Olof Palme must “now be seen as an enemy of the State”
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