True Spies: Episode 40, Mandela’s Spy
NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would YOU do in their position? This is True Spies.
BRADLEY STEYN: The consequences of them thinking that I was not who I was were incredibly dangerous. You know, it'd be very easy for them just to put a bullet in the back of my head and bury me on a citrus farm somewhere.
My name is Bradley Steyn. I was born outside Pretoria during the state of emergency in South Africa.
NARRATOR: How do you become a double agent? And why? Is it for the money? Is it out of fear? Or is it because the world you thought you recognized and understood turned out to be an illusion? What does it take for a young white South African to turn his back on the privilege of his youth? To join the other side? To work from the inside to destroy the very institutions that gave him his identity? This is Bradley Steyn’s story. It begins, at least in psychological terms, on a scorching hot day in Pretoria, the South African capital. Seventeen-year-old Bradley was on his way to meet his mother. It was November 1988.
BRADLEY STEYN: And all of a sudden I heard these loud gunshots ringing out and I just saw people scatter and I saw terrified faces of black people and white people and Indians running towards me with the look of complete and utter terror on their faces.
NARRATOR: It began to dawn on Bradley that someone with a gun was running amok.
BRADLEY STEYN: I then saw this tall, lanky-looking white guy wearing camouflage fatigues. He was brandishing, from what I could tell, was a nine millimeter parabellum. And I saw him raise his pistol and execute a person, a black person sitting on the bench. I saw him go up to another person and shoot them.
NARRATOR: It’s hard to imagine what you’d do in a situation like this; how you would react to the horror playing out in front of you. Bradley’s initial instinct was to get down. There was a man crouching behind a bench, a young black man. He called Bradley over. The man with the gun turned in their direction and fired.
BRADLEY STEYN: We hid and I still remember feeling the marble shards from that bench hitting the back of my neck.
NARRATOR: They broke cover and ran across the square. And then the young white man in his camouflage fatigues fired two shots at the young black man who had helped Bradley to hide. Bradley found himself on the ground, cradling the injured man, while the shooter stared down at them. At this point, Bradley says, he felt rage more than fear as he looked up at the man who might be about to bring his life to an end.
BRADLEY STEYN: He lifted his gun and he pointed it at me. He saw I was white and he lowered his gun.
BRADLEY STEYN: I asked him: ‘Hoekom doen jy dit? Why are you doing this?’ And he turned around and he said: ‘Ek doen dit vir die toekoms van wit Suid-Afrikaners, I'm doing this for the future of white South Africans.’ And he turned around and he jogged off.
NARRATOR: Bradley has never quite got over this experience. It still haunts him, even far away in Los Angeles where he now lives. There are places in South Africa where he’s no longer welcome. You’ll understand this once you’ve heard his story. It’s a story underpinned by violence. A story about racism and white supremacists desperate attempts to cling to power when the world around them is moving on. But it’s also a story of betrayal. The betrayal that, by definition, is committed by every double agent in the world.
BRADLEY STEYN: I grew up in a very conservative white neighborhood where we didn't have any black friends or people of color in our schools.
NARRATOR: South Africa in the early 1970s was a country divided. A country deliberately divided. The black majority was excluded from almost every route to economic, political and cultural advancement. The white minority ruled supreme.
BRADLEY STEYN: We were white and white ideals were shared, we were, as a matter of fact, indoctrinated into white supremacy and white superiority. And those ideals were integrated and implemented at a very young age where we were prepared for war and to uphold white superior rule in South Africa.
NARRATOR: But Bradley’s family was a bit different. While his father was an Afrikaner, his mother was English.
BRADLEY STEYN: My mother worked in theater and in the performing arts, so she was a lot more liberal. And my father was also very liberal. Our neighbors, my friends that I used to go have braais, barbecues with, you know, were very conservative and racist, but when I got home I was taught at a very young age to treat everybody the way I expect to be treated back.
NARRATOR: Bradley had just witnessed the white supremacy that had infused his childhood expressed in its most destructive form. Barend Strydom, the man with the gun, would later be convicted for killing eight people that day and wounding another 16. Bradley escaped physically unscathed. But the massacre in that public square left a deep scar.
BRADLEY STEYN: I became very angry. I struggled with authority and I became very confused and felt very guilty because this racist, Afrikaner, white nationalist had saved my life and spared me because of my white skin.
NARRATOR: He joined the Navy soon afterwards where he learned to handle firearms and became proficient in hand-to-hand combat. But he was soon back in the civilian world, young, strong and angry. Bradley became a bouncer at a nightclub in Cape Town. He acquired a reputation as a man who was good with his fists and before long he was offered a new job for an outfit called Project Group.
BRADLEY STEYN: And Project Group was at that stage, explained to me, it was a company that provided security for nightclub venues, business people in South Africa because of the organized gangs on the Western Cape Flats. A lot of people get kidnapped and extorted and they were, quote unquote, ‘the security solution and a protection solution’. I was interested and I decided to join those guys.
NARRATOR: The most important of ‘those guys’ was a man called Neil De Beer. You’ll be hearing a lot about him. He and Bradley became something of a double act in the violent, murderous world of Cape Town’s gangland at the beginning of the 1990s. And then, after a few weeks De Beer said he wanted Bradley to meet someone and he realized there was more to the Project Group than met the eye.
BRADLEY STEYN: This gentleman walked in - a very pale, unhealthy-looking character, very thin and gaunt. He had a cigarette between his fingers. And he said: ‘My name is Major Andy Miller. And I'd just like to thank you for some of the work that you have been doing.’
NARRATOR: And then he dropped the bombshell.
BRADLEY STEYN: And he explained to me that Project Group was a commercial entity, but it was actually a government-sponsored cover operation for clandestine operations for the security police in the Western Cape.
NARRATOR: So Bradley wasn’t simply nursing nervous nightclub owners. The Project Group was also working for the Security Branch of the Western Cape Police. This, at a pivotal moment in the history of South Africa. Revolution was in the air. White minority rule was under existential threat. The apartheid state, under pressure from within and without, was on the brink of collapse. The security police were one of the organizations desperate to prevent that collapse, desperate to preserve white privilege and white supremacy. And Bradley was now part of that.
BRADLEY STEYN: I was a little agitated and irritated. I said to De Beer, you know: ‘What, what the hell are you getting me into?’ And he said: ‘Well, we specifically recruited you because we need a no-nonsense kind of guy, and we think you're that guy.’
NARRATOR: There was a carrot. Bradley’s lifestyle had already led to a few brushes with the law. There were charges pending, GBH - Grievous Bodily Harm - among them. The security police could make these go away. So he persuaded himself that he was doing the right thing. And there was something else.
BRADLEY STEYN: I was open to it because I was also told that the rooi gevaar is the biggest danger, the red danger, the Communist threat was our biggest danger. And I thought: ‘Yeah, okay, well, if I can stop this Communist threat, you know, perhaps I could be doing some service.’ I went along with it and boy was that a ride.
NARRATOR: The Communists had always been the bogeyman in the milieu in which Bradley grew up, because the Communists in South Africa, along with the ANC, were the most ardent agitators for the overthrow of apartheid. And so Bradley was let loose on a mission to intimidate and frighten the enemy: Communist party activists, ANC activists, anyone seen as a threat to the existing order. Sometimes muscle was enough. Other times, they needed to take a more subtle approach. Psyops you might call it. Getting inside the enemy’s head. Gaslighting. So Bradley and Neil might break into someone’s house and take a Polaroid photo of themselves with the family pet and leave it stuck to the fridge door. That would be quite unsettling, don’t you think? On one occasion they planted a dummy hand grenade in the handbag of the wife of one their targets. And there was another favorite trick: lacing someone’s toothbrush with LSD, or smearing it on the door handle of their car.
BRADLEY STEYN: When the guy walks out of his house, gets into his car, then we would appear in certain places and doing a hot coffee job on him where, you know, we'd bump into him and spill hot coffee on him while he's now, under the influence of psychedelic potions if I could say, or just have a quiet word with them: ‘Tthat plan that you're planning is not a good plan.’
NARRATOR: ‘Devious’, Bradley calls this. ‘Stunts.’ Sadistic is another word that springs to mind. This was a time of great tension in South Africa. South Africa was, in effect, at war. On one side, the apartheid government fighting for its life. On the other, the ANC, fighting for freedom from 40 years of racial oppression. Much of the ANC’s work went on in the townships on the Cape Flats. This is where their military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe - MK, for short - trained the foot soldiers; this is where they hid their weapons. So, this is where the most valuable intelligence came from. This is where you needed to recruit your own eyes and ears.
BRADLEY STEYN: We identified a real tough and bad guy with a bad reputation who actually happened to have a security company as well, and his name was Cyril Beeka and his brother's name was Edward. And they had a dog security company that (did) the dogs’ security patrols. We did a strategic partnership with them, that they would handle security for us. But our ultimate objective was to also try to figure out who these MK operatives were on the Cape Flats.
NARRATOR: Beeka, of course, didn’t know this. He didn’t know this was political. They hadn’t told him that they were working for the police. This was strictly business. Nothing more.
BRADLEY STEYN: We were then given, by our handler, key targets that we needed to figure out who they were. And, you know, he would give us names and then we'd run those names by Beeka and either he would, you know, this guy was just so dangerous. Everybody feared him immensely. He would just go grab these people off the street and bring them to us.
NARRATOR: There was one particularly significant job. Bradley and Neil were sent to recover some documents from a building on an industrial park close to the Cape Town airport, an ANC safe house. They were unprepared for the resistance they encountered – a man with a buzz cut and a revolver. And, having dealt with him, they were even less prepared for what Bradley’s partner Neil found next.
BRADLEY STEYN: He called me into the servant's quarters that had this little bathroom and a shower. And I came in there and he pulled this curtain open and in this bathtub were AK 47s, limpet mines, RPGs, Russian-made RPGs. So, you know, we weren't just going to walk away and leave the stuff on the street. We were right next to the airport. You could take that RPG and take a bird out of the sky with the pull of a trigger.
NARRATOR: They loaded the guns into the back of their vehicle and stashed them in a safe place. But then came the encounter that changed Bradley’s view of the world and ultimately changed his life. It began as a routine assignment to pick up a senior ANC military commander for interrogation. Bradley prefers to refer to this man by the alias Stephen Kumalo.
BRADLEY STEYN: De Beer and I had planned our operation and planned to go and snatch him.
NARRATOR: They had learned that Kumalo had recently crossed the border from Mozambique and could be found in a township called Tembisa not far from Pretoria.
BRADLEY STEYN: So in the early morning, we had taken a vehicle, a minibus, and driven into Tembisa and these rudimentary little homes that black people live in in South Africa - because they can't afford anything else, you know, it's very often made of corrugated iron or old billboards that have been cut up and repurposed - and we tried the door and we couldn't open the door, so we kicked the door down. But unfortunately, half the shack fell down and landed on top of us and landed on top of the occupants. We pushed this roof of the shack over. We found him busy running and scrambling out the back and managed to grab his leg. And I pulled him towards us, got on top of him, and I was trying to restrain him and put handcuffs on him. And while I was doing this, his wife jumped on my back and she's trying to scratch my eyes out. De Beer managed to get her off me.
NARRATOR: They took him outside, put him in their truck and drove him up to a farm where they had established a safe house.
BRADLEY STEYN: When we reached the farm we put him into this holding room. We uncuffed him, secured him, gave him something, gave him some coffee and some bread and jam.
NARRATOR: But it became clear that this was not a man who would easily be intimidated. Bradley was briefly left alone with him.
BRADLEY STEYN: He turned around and he said: ‘Baba, I can see you're a big, strong boy, I can see that you can hurt me. I can see you very, very strong.’ And I ignored him. And he said to me: ‘Have you heard of our Freedom Charter?’
NARRATOR: Neil De Beer came back into the room.
BRADLEY STEYN: De Beer sat across the table and he said the same thing: ‘You know, I can see you boys can hurt me. I just want to lay my cards on the table,’ he said to us. ‘And what the Freedom Charter says is that South Africa and the new South Africa that we are working towards and the African National Congress is a South Africa for all our tribes. Your tribe, the white tribe, your settlers are now seen as a tribe in South Africa, are part of this Freedom Charter. South Africa is for all South Africans.’
NARRATOR: It was a moment of revelation for Bradley - his road to Damascus, if you like.
BRADLEY STEYN: We just ended up listening to him, listening to this man, who truly made sense. And that was my big ‘Come to Jesus’ moment when I realized that I'm on the wrong team.
NARRATOR: Stephen Kumalo made a deep impression.
BRADLEY STEYN: I was moved by him, by his compassion, by his humility and his humanity; by his strength of character, by his convictions, to want to create a better place for all South Africans. And it was a very important moment for me and for Neil as well. It truly rocked him, being a conservative Afrikaner and realizing that we could make a difference ourselves, and he convinced us that we could.
NARRATOR: It was the beginning of a long and significant relationship but one that Bradley and Neil had to keep quiet.
BRADLEY STEYN: Stephen Kumalo and ourselves became very close. I had told Major Miller that we had recruited him when in actual fact, he had recruited us.
NARRATOR: Bradley’s eyes had been opened by the persuasive patience of his prisoner; a man who’d refused to be intimidated by the thuggish presence of two large white men. He would get to know Stephen Kumalo over the coming months. And then Bradley learned that Barend Strydom had been released from prison. The man convicted of gunning down eight innocent people. The man who’d pointed his gun at Bradley but spared his life because he was white. Inspired by his encounter with Kumalo, Bradley realized he was no longer prepared to accept the injustices that he’d grown up around.
BRADLEY STEYN: This unhinged me. I got angry. I lost it. I couldn't believe that he only had spent four years in jail. I decided to go and speak to my dad and seek his counsel. My dad could always talk me off the ledge and calm me down. I happened to go see my dad unexpectedly. He didn't know that I was going to be there. But I guess somebody else knew I was going to be there.
NARRATOR: When Bradley walked into the tailor’s shop in Pretoria where his father worked he was busy with a customer.
BRADLEY STEYN: My father was working on this very elegant and sophisticated-looking black man who was old, very stoic, didn't say much. Just smiled kindly and warmly as my dad was pinning the suit on his, the bottom of his legs, and on his cuffs. My dad waved me over and he told me to come over. I embraced him and I hugged him and the customer got off this little stool and he shook my hand and he said: ‘Hello Bradley, how are you?’ I was taken aback. I got nervous. I thought perhaps this is a trap. I thought perhaps I have now got too deep.
NARRATOR: Bradley was taking his first steps in an unfamiliar world. A world in which no one is quite what they seem. A world where a casual meeting turns out to have been deliberately planned. A world in which it’s easy to lose orientation. Imagine how that might feel. Then the elegant elderly gentleman said something else.
BRADLEY STEYN: He reassured me there and then that a good friend sent his greetings, Stephen Kumalo, and that he's heard good things about me.
NARRATOR: And the man said he thought they should stay in touch with each other.
BRADLEY STEYN: He gave me a pager number. I wanted to give him mine and he said he had it already. And we went our separate ways. Later on, I got to know that this elderly black gentleman was none other than Joe Nhlanhla, who later on became the first deputy minister of intelligence for the South African government, for the new South African government under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.
NARRATOR: Not only that, he was the head of intelligence for the military wing of the ANC. So Bradley now had a seal of approval from the very top. But he still had a day job, as it were, back in Cape Town, working for Major Miller, chasing Communists and MK operatives on behalf of the security police. It was a relationship that sooner or later was going to become awkward. And, sure enough, one day Miller told Bradley and Neil De Beer that he needed them to identify and shadow one of MK’s key men. He couldn’t provide a description but told them the man he was after would be at a certain place at a certain time for a meeting. Bradley and Neil took up position across the street.
BRADLEY STEYN: So we see this character walking. We can't see his face or his head because we could see him striding towards their table. But I sort of recognize the gait and the body language of the person. And he sits down and we see it's Cyril Beeka, our partner in Project Group who runs our dog division, and who runs all operations across the Cape Flats.
NARRATOR: The penny drops. Cyril Beeka, their business partner, the man with a dog security company on the Cape Flats, is a deep cover intelligence agent for MK. This was an unwelcome surprise. Because if Beeka finds out that Bradley and Neil De Beer are themselves deep cover agents for the other side, he’s not, shall we say, going to be best pleased.
BRADLEY STEYN: We knew that this was a very, very dangerous situation that we were in. If we were going to be discovered now our lives could end very abruptly.
NARRATOR: So what’s going on here? Does Major Miller suspect that Bradley and Neil had switched allegiance? Was this a test of their loyalty? And who posed the bigger threat to them now, Cyril Beeka, the gangland boss or Andy Miller, the security policeman? How do they navigate this little difficulty?
BRADLEY STEYN: We thought that maybe Miller knew exactly what was going on and, you know, was he trying to rattle us and try to unhinge us and trying to get us to panic and act out of place - see if we'd panic, see if we'd get up, see if we'd run. Because then, you know, we would be showing our cards. But what we did is, we played it very calmly and we played it in a very cool way, we just told him what the facts were.
NARRATOR: They told Major Miller the truth. They told him who the man was that they’d been sent to identify.
BRADLEY STEYN: We told him that it was Cyril.
NARRATOR: The incident had left Bradley with a dilemma. If Miller suspected his true allegiance he was in trouble. And if Cyril Beeka understood the true nature of Bradley’s work for Miller he was also in trouble. He and Neil were in danger, as he puts it, of getting burned at both ends. So Bradley decided to make a call. Remember the elderly gentleman his father had been fitting for a suit? MK’s head of intelligence, Joe Nhlanhla. Bradley rang him and a meeting was arranged at a fast food restaurant in the Cape Town suburb of Sea Point.
BRADLEY STEYN: So myself and De Beer went and had our first, sort of, official ANC meeting. I was incredibly nervous. These are Russian-trained guys. I didn't know what we were going to get ourselves into. You don’t know who you can trust, especially in this world of both sides and double agents and whether it was a trap or not, so I was incredibly nervous and worried.
NARRATOR: But Joe Joe Nhlanhla was with them as they walked in. That helped to calm the nerves a little. Inside there were two men waiting. Bradley recognized them. They were the same two men he and Neil had been sent to spy on previously. The meeting at which they’d identified Cyril Beeka as the third man. And guess who else was in the restaurant? Correct. Cyril Beeka.
BRADLEY STEYN: I said to Neil: ‘This is a trap.’ He said: ‘Don't worry. Let's just go hear this out. Let's go see what was going on.’ My heart was racing. I could feel it bouncing around in my chest because I knew how dangerous Cyril was. I knew that, you know, Cyril could very easily just put a bullet in the back of our heads.
NARRATOR: Bradley was forced to confess that he’d been working for the other side; that he’d been working for Major Miller and the apartheid security police. He waited for Beeka’s reaction.
BRADLEY STEYN: I could see in his eyes he was not happy with us at all. But he was incredibly amused by the whole situation and we broke bread. Cyril told us if we ever deceived him again that he would kill us. And De Beer and I decided there and then that we had to join this liberation struggle and fight for what was right. And it was, as nerve racking and as terrified as I was, it was like a massive weight had just lifted off my shoulders, as if I had just found my calling, as if I had just found where I needed to be.
NARRATOR: And so Bradley became a double agent. Ostensibly working for Major Miller, he was now actually working for Miller’s sworn enemies and for those two men in the restaurant. Their names were Jeremy Vearey and Andre Lincoln. Bradley and Neil needed to learn some tradecraft.
BRADLEY STEYN: The majority of the stuff that we did learn was counterintelligence, counter-surveillance. You know, to figure out if we were being followed, to figure out if we had surveillance on us. You know, if similar cars kept popping up, making a mental note of what those cars sort of looked like, not specifically what their license plates were, but if they had any distinguishing markings on the cars, whether it be a decal, a sticker, or whether it be a tail light that's out or anything like that. And if this car kept reappearing - we called it a ‘hot coal’ - we knew that we had a hot coal in our pocket.
NARRATOR: Some of the training was a little more adventurous.
BRADLEY STEYN: We also took a trip up to Angola to go and learn how to arm limpet mines, learn how to use RPGs, learn how to use grenades and just some bush warcraft.
NARRATOR: But remember, this is all on the side. Bradley and Neil were still working for Major Miller, still working on behalf of the Western Cape security police. Perhaps Miller had his suspicions. Perhaps that’s why he sent them to the citrus farm.
BRADLEY STEYN: Major Miller turned around and he said: ‘There's this guy in Zeerust - which is just west of Pretoria, the capital in South Africa, close to the Botswana border, in this beautiful citrus valley area - a guy that runs an organization called the World Apartheid Movement, WAM. And we need to deliver this cache of weapons to him.
NARRATOR: The World Apartheid Movement. You’ve probably never heard of them. Neo-fascist probably best describes them. So you’re a double agent working for the ANC and you are told to deliver weapons to the enemy: AK47s, limpet mines, rocket-propelled grenade launchers. It’s enough firepower to start a small war, which was probably the objective. How do you get out of this one? You can’t disobey orders but you can’t risk being unmasked. It was time to ask advice from the top brass.
BRADLEY STEYN: We went to our handlers at the ANC, panicking, because now we had to hand these weapons over to these right wing radical, racist Afrikaners. Jeremy Vearey and Andre Lincoln understood the urgency of the matter and they said: ‘Just go ahead and go and deliver this, but let's just try see if we can fiddle with the firing pin or the trigger mechanisms of the RPGs, at least. Let's try to mess with them a little bit so that at least we'll - from a national security point of view - we'll just try and avoid a disaster by those being out on the loose.’
NARRATOR: Bradley knew that in charge of the World Apartheid Movement was a man called Koos Vermeulen.
BRADLEY STEYN: Koos Vermeulen had these relationships with the Klu Klux Klan, with the Nazi sympathizers, with the skinheads out of Germany and out of Britain, and relationships to various Neo-Nazi type of support groups around the world. Because what he was doing was, he was creating an apartheid allegiance with memberships around the world.
NARRATOR: So Bradley had a sense of the people he would be getting involved with but the ANC had said go ahead, so he and Neil hid the weapons in their van and set off. Their destination was a citrus farm not far from the border with Botswana. Vermeulen was expecting them.
BRADLEY STEYN: And he introduced himself to me and he asked me if there were any problems with getting this equipment up. I said there was no problem at all. We opened up the secret compartment and we delivered these munitions to him. He was very excited and very pleased and invited me in and told me that he'd heard some good stuff about me. And I decided to schmooze him and start chatting him up.
NARRATOR: Bradley had sensed an opportunity. You can picture it, can’t you? There he was, an angry white guy in his early 20s who liked using his fists. He must have looked the part. Perhaps he amped up the Afrikaner accent a notch. Remember all those boyhood barbecues with the neighbors and their implicit understanding of racial superiority. Bradley, you might say, spoke Vermeulen’s language.
BRADLEY STEYN: I started talking about how we need to get a handle on these blacks that are ravaging this country and that are going to chase us all into the ocean - everything that I was taught as a schoolboy. Now was my opportunity to use that in a real-life situation. And I told him that we needed to do everything possible to stop the black danger from swallowing up South Africa and taking over this country. And I told him that if he ever needed my help and my support ... And he said: ‘Yeah, actually I do. I would really like you to be involved and we could use a guy like you around.’
NARRATOR: And so Bradley joined the World Apartheid Movement. Or that’s what they thought. For the ANC this was gold to have their own man on the inside. It wouldn’t have been hard for Bradley to blend in. As we’ve said, he looked the part and he played it well. Recruitment was one of his responsibilities.
BRADLEY STEYN: We would put together training, training courses and training days where we'd all get together and go do hand-to-hand combat training and advanced CQB, - close quarter battle training - and use long rifles, pistols.
NARRATOR: But to really understand the kind of people Bradley was now working with you have to know about some of their other projects.
BRADLEY STEYN: These guys had a plan to use a microlight airplane and use gas, poison gas.
NARRATOR: Yes, that’s right, poison gas. Just think about that for a moment.
BRADLEY STEYN: They got the idea because of the citrus crops that they have and they used crop dusting poison for pesticides. And they also wanted us to come up with a plan, which I helped them with to a certain extent, in figuring out how they could poison the water supply to some of the townships.
NARRATOR: They wanted to poison the water supply where the poor blacks lived.
BRADLEY STEYN: When I was up in Zeerust, I just happened to be there during one of their little test runs that they wanted to use. And they had this rat poison that they were going to use and see how many they could kill.
NARRATOR: Bradley faced the same dilemma as when he’d first been asked to deliver the weapons. It’s the constant dilemma of the double agent. Act and risk being exposed. But can you really stand by and watch people poison the water supply? Bradley found a solution.
BRADLEY STEYN: I actually ended up going and buying a similar product from a grocery store that looks similar to this product and I swapped it out.
NARRATOR: So nobody died. But there were moments when Bradley had no choice but to go along with things. It was do that or blow his cover and the ANC needed him on the inside. But it never felt good.
BRADLEY STEYN: Oh, it was very challenging. I looked like an Aryan. I was big. I was blond. I had a shaved head. I used to work out constantly with these guys. We used to lift weights. We used to shoot. We used to do close-quarter battle. When they'd go drinking, I'd go drinking with them.
NARRATOR: And that’s when the trouble would start. And there wasn’t much Bradley could do about it.
BRADLEY STEYN: They'd want to drive through the townships. They'd do awful things to people in the townships. And I would not want to participate with some of those things. So it was very difficult for me. I used to throw up sometimes. I couldn't stomach some of the stuff that they would do but I'd have to participate from time to time, like I said, going into the townships whether it be rounding up guys and just beating the hell out of them.
NARRATOR: Which may seem like a rather high price to pay but Bradley, like all double agents embedded in a target organization, couldn’t let his guard drop for a moment.
BRADLEY STEYN:When you are that close to a group of people - you're eating, sleeping, training with them, doing your laundry with them - if they sense there's a change in in your demeanor or anything like that, it's very dangerous and working within an organization like that, undercover, like I was, it was very tricky. You just ... you had to keep yourself in character constantly. The consequences of them thinking that I was not who I was incredibly dangerous. You know, it'd be very easy for them just to put a bullet in the back of my head and bury me on the citrus farm somewhere.
NARRATOR: Bradley had worked out a way to stay in touch with his handlers. A way of warning them if, for example, a plan to poison the water supply was going ahead. A way to avoid a shallow grave. It involved his portable cassette player, his Walkman.
BRADLEY STEYN: I was always known to have a Walkman with me when I'd work out. When I'd go shoot, I'd always have a Walkman with me. I had this tape that I'd listen to constantly. Carl Orff's O Fortuna. Carmina Burana. That was our theme music around that crowd, very strong and powerful classical music, the chosen music for the chosen race.
NARRATOR: The Walkman became an important accessory. Bradley made sure that everyone got used to seeing him with it. Because this was how he got information out.
BRADLEY STEYN: There's a way on the actual cassette tape that if you shove a piece of cardboard into it, then you can actually record over it. What I'd do was, if there were important things that I needed to pass on, important, actionable intelligence that I need to pass on to my guys, I would record onto these tapes. And I would leave the cassette tapes hidden on the perimeter of the property and the guys that were at the neighboring farms would come and pick up my tapes and fast-forward through the classical music and then they'd hear my messages that I would be sending them and leaving them, so that's how we would communicate back and forth.
NARRATOR: If the stakes were high, so were the rewards. He remembers a barbecue, torches blazing in the darkness, a sheep roasting on a spit and the brandy and Coke in full flow.
BRADLEY STEYN: Things happen when people drink a lot - and completely by coincidence and by chance I heard them say: "Ons gaan verei dum kafir skiet". And they were talking about Nelson Mandela. They were saying that they were going to shoot that dumb black man at his inauguration and I found out who that guy was, and that guy was a member of the security police.
NARRATOR: So out came the Walkman. Bradley was able to quietly convey his suspicion to his handlers.
BRADLEY STEYN: I got it to my guys. My guys gave that intel to Andre Lincoln and what they ended up doing, unbeknownst to me, but they ended up finding a custom-made sniper's rifle that they were going to use at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
NARRATOR: Bradley had helped to save the life of the hero of black South Africa, the man who became its first black president. But Bradley Steyn’s days as an undercover agent inside the World Apartheid Movement were numbered. He got a quiet message that he needed to see Andre Lincoln – one of the men he’d first met the day he was recruited by the ANC at that Cape Town Wimpy restaurant. Lincoln had been promoted to a senior role at police headquarters in Pretoria.
BRADLEY STEYN: I went to his office. And I spoke to him and he said, ‘We got to pull you. We've just got intel out of Pollsmoor,’ - which is the maximum security prison in the Western Cape, just outside Cape Town - ‘that there's a hit out for you and Neil De Beer. Andy Miller, Major Miller has found out that you, in fact, are members of MK.’
NARRATOR: It was over. The life of a double agent is by its nature a precarious one. Bradley had lasted two years. And he’d survived. It was time to count his blessings. But also time to leave South Africa. Even now, a generation later, there are still people who’d prefer to see him dead. Bradley lives in California where he is still in the security business.
I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another brush with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence, for free now at SPYSCAPE.com.
Bradley Steyn was a teenager in the 1980s during South Africa's apartheid years. Steyn was also the witness to a massacre - fearing for his own life as a white gunman shot dead eight people because of their race. These two, life-altering experience led him to work for the apartheid regime's Security Branch and later as a recruit for the underground ANC's Department of Intelligence and Security.