JOHANNESBURG — GERT CORNELIUS HUGO joined South Africa's military because he wanted to be a professional soldier.
But now he is an outsider - a retired colonel in the South African Defense Force's Department of Military Intelligence - who wants to expose the "political brigadiers and generals" who he says have cynically used young soldiers as pawns in a South Africa's political struggle and showed contempt for professional soldiers in the SADF.
Colonel Hugo alleges that a secret network of military and security-force officers is undermining South Africa's attempt at peaceful transition to majority rule. The so-called Third Force, he says, includes dirty-tricks squads that often consist of young soldiers or policemen. "Because they were no more than kids out of high school they often ended up targeting innocent people and became judge, jury, and executioner in a political war which was being waged by political soldiers in Pretoria," the South Af rican capital, he says.
Hugo is an Afrikaner raised in a military environment in the southern Cape town of Oudtshoorn. His father was a noncommissioned officer who taught at the Army college, and his mother was a secretary with the rank of sergeant-major. His brother serves in the South Africa's Special Forces.
A one-time drama student, he began his service when the military police arrived to collect him after he failed to report for mandatory duty in 1974. He fought in conflicts in Angola and Namibia, and joined military intelligence in 1982, occasionally working undercover as a ponytailed, bearded water inspector.
He arrived at the Eastern Cape Command in Port Elizabeth in mid-1985, where he first encountered the covert Army unit "Hammer," which has been linked to the killing of anti-apartheid activist Matthew Goniwe. "The were a bunch of cowboys calling themselves Special Forces," Hugo says. "Suddenly you come out of the operational area [Namibia and Angola] where you have been engaged in combat, and the next thing you are breaking the law, kidnapping people, and taking them away in the dead of night."
During a series of interviews Hugo appears to have wrestled with what he says was a dawning belief that he was part a rotten system. His departure from the military was accompanied by marital problems and for a while he became a reborn Christian.
It would have been far easier for Hugo to join the African National Congress (ANC) or leave the country and quietly build a new life.