The telling of the history of South African Intelligence Agencies is somewhat hamstrung by the fact that people from these agencies do not want their stories to be told. The Bureau of State Security (BOSS), which was originally established in 1968, is one such agency whose history remains frustratingly murky. 


BOSS was established in 1968, but was only legally institutionalised on 16 May 1969 by John Vorster under the leadership of Hendrik van den Bergh though the Public Service Amendment Act (1969). The main aim of BOSS was to monitor national security, as well as to recognize any potential threats to the South African state.   

The establishment of BOSS can be described as a limited function, seeing as its whole authority and responsibility rested with one individual, van den Bergh. Before the establishment of BOSS, the South African government looked at British Intelligence agencies (MI5 and MI6) for guidance in how to establish its own security and intelligence agencies. The origins of the British MI5 & MI6 services can be traced back to the Anglo Boer War. With the Cold War beginning, it was clear that discovering secrets of others and coveting the secrets of one’s own would be a crucial factor in international relations. Vorster then created a new civilian agency called Republican Intelligence (RI), headed by van den Bergh. Seeing as the RI lacked external capacity, van den Bergh transformed it into a central intelligence organisation with the capability of operating externally, thus BOSS was created. The RI ran informers, which mainly consisted of journalists. In a book called Inside BOSS, the author Mr. Gordon Winter attributes BOSS to the Rivonia bust, the smash of Poqo, and infiltrating the ARM. The existence of BOSS came to an end with the prominence of the information scandal, which will be discussed later. 

Agents and Antecedents of BOSS

BOSS took on different names before and after the official establishment thereof. During the 1930’s, a special branch of the South African Police was created. In 1960, it became the official security branch. Thereafter, in 1963, the Republican intelligence was born from where BOSS was created on May 1st 1969. On September 1st 1978, the name of BOSS changed to the Department of National Security (DONS). Just a short year after that it became the National Intelligence Agency. In 1995, it officially became the National Intelligence Agency.

Hendrik van den Bergh was appointed as the Head of BOSS by creator John Vorster in 1969. Former members of BOSS include Mike Kuhn, Mr. Gordon Winter, and Mr. P.C. Swanepoel. Winter states that he knew of a fellow agent, Keith Wallace, who was allegedly killed by BOSS’ Secret Death Squad, also known as the Z- Squad.  A.H. Bouwer was also named a BOSS agent.

Brigadier W.A.L. du Toit killed two unknown victims in 1969 and 1970, and Brigadier Willem Schoon killed two ANC combatants in 1972, as stated on their amnesty applications.

It is stated that Danie Theron was one of the best spies during the Anglo Boer War.


BOSS can be described as a secret organisation attached to the Prime Minister’s office and responsible for coordinating internal and external security. Its main function was to investigate all matters affecting the security of the state, but no framework had been established along with the organisation. Thus, in 1972 the purpose of BOSS was laid out by the State Security Council Act no. 64 (1972). Some of the main aims of BOSS included identifying any threats to the country; collect, evaluate, correlate and interpret national security intelligence information. Another aim for the creation of BOSS was to coordinate the security activities of both the security branch of the police and of the military intelligence division of the South African Defence Force (SADF). One of its main purposes was also to coordinate intelligence work as well as to create a foreign espionage capacity.

The State Security Council Act no. 64 (1972) consisted of two mandates: firstly, BOSS aimed to advise (a) the formulation of national- security policy and strategy, and the manner in which same shall be implemented; and (b) a policy to combat any particular threat to the security of the republic; and secondly, to determine intelligence priorities. Under the law, BOSS was also expected to submit National Intelligence Estimates (NIE’s), as well as proposing policies relating to national security intelligence. 

Projects linked to BOSS

Closer collaboration with international agencies.

In July 1969, BOSS, the Portuguese International Police for the Defence of the State (PIDE), and the Rhodesian Security Police met in Lisbon in an attempt to bring about closer collaboration in their counterinsurgency efforts. Several further such tripartite meetings were held in the next five years, coinciding with the development by the SADF of a high-level think-tank focusing on strategic options in the region where senior Rhodesian officers were also involved in the project.

Operation Plathond

Operation Plathond was a joint BOSS and SADF project which involved the training of a surrogate force of Zambians for operations against the government of President Kaunda, the ANC’s most important supporter in Africa. Under the command of the head of South Africa’s first Special Forces unit, Colonel Jannie Breytenbach, this operation is said to have trained some 200 Zambians for destabilization operations inside Zambia. It was abandoned in 1973 when President Kaunda made public allegations of South African interference in Zambian affairs. Information about Operation Plathond was given to the Commission by a former member of BOSS, Mr, Mike Kuhn.

Z- Squad

The Z- Squad, also known as the Death Squad, is allegedly responsible for the killings that are issued by BOSS. The existence of the Z- Squad was confirmed by former BOSS agent Gordon Winter. The Z- Squad was formed in the middle to late 1960’s following an idea devised by Hendrik van den Bergh in which Security police began to eliminate ANC sympathisers inside townships rather than taking part in the lengthy process of going through a trial. According to Kris Hollington, the secret death squad was responsible for maintaining apartheid by carrying out a series of assassinations of political opponents, where these killings were made to look like accidents or suicide.  On record, at least fifty opponents were killed by this death squad. Former agents of BOSS claim that the deaths of Keith Wallace, John Dube and Abraham Tiro were executed by the Z- Squad, by use of letter bombs. Another victim, Dr. Richard Turner was also believed to have died at the hands of BOSS’s Z- Squad. On 8 January 1978 he was shot by a sniper inside his house, where Martin Dolinchek was allegedly responsible for the killing.

Dirk Coetzee had worked his way up to become the commander of the secret South African police death squad, also known as the Z- Squad incorporated. Coetzee was directly responsible for six assassinations between 1977 and 1981 and was associated with dozens more.  

The Information Scandal

The Information Scandal, also known as the Infogate, Rhoodiegate and Muldergate, started at the beginning of 1971 when Dr. Eschel Rhoodie negotiated an agreement with a Dutch publisher to establish a new magazine called To the Point. The establishment of this newspaper, which was secretly funded by the South African government, aimed at restraining the negative press that as received about South Africa overseas. Senior members of the Department of Information were involved in covert propaganda and other malicious activities. This illegal scheme was supported by Vorster, who was Prime minister at the time; van den Bergh, who was the chief of Intelligence services; the minister of Information Dr. Connie Mulder, and Mr. Gerald Barrie, who was head of the department of information.

In 1972, Rhoodie was promoted to the secretary of Information and had been working in close cooperation with van den Bergh since 1973. The department of Information was the central hub around which these schemes were run. Rhoodie, along with his associates and Dr. Louis Luyt, launched the Citizen newspaper as a counter against the views of the Rand Daily Mail newspaper. By 1977 the performance of the Citizen fell extremely short of expectations. Another issue emerged regarding the finances; as the money was obtained from the Department of Defence, the money from the department of information was not added to the amount requisitioned from the Treasury. Accordingly, no more funds were available.

By 1977, rumours had surfaced regarding the illegal use of government funds and an audit of the books was ordered. On the 3rd of November 1978, a press conference was held by Justice Mostert where he stated that he has evidence implicating the Citizen’s use of Government funds after he employed the services of the Erasmus- commission. During this press conference, Mostert disclosed that his evidence pointed to attempts by Mulder’s department to promote the political aims of the National Party with the help of government funds to gain control over all English newspapers within and outside of South Africa. These erratic activities have been attributed to Rhoodie, who served as secretary of the department. According to the first report issued by the Erasmus- commission, Mulder incurred overseas loans without consulting Treasury, and loaned substantial amounts of government funds to a National Party supporter to buy opposition newspapers.           

Vorster was forced to resign as State President in 1979 after his involvement in the Information Scandal where P.W. Botha succeeded him as prime minister, while Rhoodie was charged with seven counts of fraud and was granted bail of R90 000. Rhoodie published a book called The Real Information Scandal in 1983. 

BOSS in the Angolan War

BOSS got involved in the Angolan Civil War because it was believed that Soviet Russia could infiltrate South Africa through Angola. The appointment of P.W. Botha as Prime Minister in 1978 fell concurrently with other serious threats to the inland as well as the rest of the Southern African region, including the new independent status of Mozambique and Angola; guerrilla infiltrations in South West Africa (now Namibia) and the disintegration of rebel forces in Rhodesia.

The aims for the South African security forces conducting operations in Angola were two- fold. Firstly, the possibility of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) taking power in Angola was regarded by the former government as a threat to South Africa’s security since the MPLA was seen as a Soviet proxy. The South African government’s main objective was to prevent the MPLA from taking power at independence since Cuban forces were introduced into Angola in support of the MPLA. After this failure, the next goal became to overthrow the MPLA and replace it by an anti Communist government led by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Secondly, the movement of the forces of the South West People’s Organisation (SWAPO) into bases in Angola was regarded as escalating the threat to South Africa’s position in South West Africa. South Africa’s active involvement in Angolan politics after the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule escalated with the SADF’s invasion of Angola, through Operation Savannah, in the second half of 1975. Though the operation was undertaken with the covert support of the US State Department, this undeclared act of war did not receive the approval of the South African cabinet. Indeed, the issue was not even raised at cabinet level until the invasion was several months old and no longer a secret.

South Africa’s participation in the war had been entirely solicited by the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and BOSS had been collaborating since the 1960’s. They have been discussing and planning how to destabilize the Angolan government, to implement anti- government movements, to sabotage factories and transport systems, disrupt Angola- Soviet projects, undermine relations between the government and the Soviet Union as well as Cuba, and how to apply pressure to curb the flow of foreign investment to Angola.

P.W. Botha, who was the minister of Defence, called for the resignation of van den Bergh as the head of BOSS. In 1980, BOSS was replaced by a new intelligence agency, called the National Intelligence Service. 

BOSS becomes a full portfolio of National Security under the Prime Minister.

Key Documents

Intelligence Services Act (2002)

The Intelligence Services Act (2002) was implemented for the establishment, administration, organisation and control of the National Intelligence Services and the South African National Academy of Intelligence; to establish and regulate the intelligence Services council on Conditions of Services; to repeal and act; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

The minister must for each of the intelligence services create posts for a deputy Director General as well as assistant director general. They should also establish chief directorates and directorates, and prescribe the functions thereof, as well as divisions and the functions thereof.

Under this act, the National Academy of intelligence was created to provide training for people in the intelligence services and/ or departments. This Academy is also responsible for the conducting of examinations or tests as a qualification for any appointment, promotion or transfer within the intelligence services.

The President must appoint a head of the Academy, who is also the chief executive officer, principal and accounting officer of the academy. The Minister must then appoint a deputy head of the academy that is responsible for the curriculum and research function for the academy.

The Establishment of the Intelligence Services Council on Conditions of Service is responsible for the making of recommendations to the minister on the development of policies on conditions of service and Human Resources matters; as well as recommendations to the minister on improvements of salaries and fringe benefits of member on an annual basis. This council is also responsible for the conducting of research, the review of policies, evaluate and monitor the implementation of policies, and to confer with the Public Service Commission.  

Victims of BOSS

Two amnesty applications revealed that members of the South African security forces were engaging in targeted assassinations at the time of BOSS’s early existence. Brigadier W.A.L du Toit applied for amnesty for the production of explosive devices intended for unknown victims in 1969 and 1970, and Brigadier Willem Schoon for the abduction, arrest and killing of two ANC combatants in Zeerust in July 1972. Former BOSS agent, Mr. Gordon Winter, alleges that the killings were the work of BOSS’s recently formed covert unit, the Z-squad. Another former BOSS agent, Mr Martin Dolinchek, also confirmed Z’s existence. Dolinchek stated that Abraham Tiro was killed by the insertion of an explosive device into a package addressed to him from the Geneva-based International University Exchange Fund (IUEF). In the case of the Mvemve letter bomb, it seems the postal service was not used as, according to Winter, the parcel bomb was posted in Lusaka. It must then have been prepared in South Africa and carried to Lusaka.

In January 1977, an attempt was made to kill the ANC’s chief representative in Swaziland, Mr Bafana Duma. The method involved attaching an explosive device to the inside of the post office box of Duma’s employer in Manzini. As a messenger, Duma’s tasks including collecting the post. Duma lost an arm but survived.

Mr Robert Smit, a former government representative at the IMF in Washington and National Party parliamentary candidate, and his wife Jean-Cora Smit, were shot and stabbed to death in what has been described as “an extremely professional hit” on 22 November 1977. Particular suspicion was directed at former members of BOSS’s alleged Z-squad and the SAP’s Special Task Team. Three names, Dries ‘Krullebol’ Verwey, Jack Widdowson and Roy Allen have repeatedly been associated with the killings. Mike Kuhn has also been linked to the Tiro killing, although in Swanepoel’s book, Really Inside BOSS, he denies having any involvement in the killing.  

State Security Council Act no. 64 (1972)

The State Security Council Act no. 64 (1972) was introduced by the prime minister on May 24 1972.

Aims/ Functions

This bill set out the functions and duties of the BOSS, and of other departments of state, in regard to security intelligence.

At the request of the Prime minister, the BOSS should advise the government on the formulation of national policy and strategy in relation to the security of the country and the manner in which this should be implemented; to advise on a policy to combat any particular threat to the security of South Africa, and on recommendation of the bureau to determine intelligence priorities. 


Several members of government was included in the composition of BOSS, including

  • The Prime Minister as chairman;
  • The senior minister of the Republic, if he is not a member under any other provision;
  • The Ministers of defence, foreign affairs, justice and police;
  • Such other ministers as the prime minister may from time to time co- opt as members
  • Secretary for security intelligence
  • The commandant- general for the South African Defence Force
  • Secretaries for foreign affairs and justice
  • The Commissioner of the South African Police
  • Such as other heads of departments of State as the Prime Minister may from time to time co- opt.


South African Institute of Race Relations, (1972), “A Survey of Race Relations in South Africa, 1972”. 

Security Services Special Account Act no. 81 (1969)

The Security Services Special Account no.81 (1969) set up an account to finance the activities of the Bureau of State Security, where the money could have been used for services of a confidential nature, as well as matters that may be in national interest.

This Act provides for the establishment of a Security Services Special Account and for the control and utilisation of money therein. This money will then be used to defray the expenses in connection with the performance of the function and duty of the National Intelligence Service. Section 4, as substituted by Section 11 of the Finance Act, no. 101 of 1979, allows for the account to be audited by the auditor- general. 


South African History Online, (2012), “A Survey of Race Relations, 1972” from South African History Online [online] Available at [Accessed: 11 February 2015]. 

Cilliers, J., (1994), “The Revision of South African Defence Related Legislation, the Military Disciplinary Code and Related Issues” from Institute for Security Studies [online] Available at [Accessed: 27 February 2015].

National Strategic Intelligence act no. 39 (1994) (NIS)

The national Strategic Intelligence Act no. 39 (1994) was implemented to define the functions of members of the National Intelligence Structures; to establish a National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee and to define its functions in respect of intelligence relating to the security of the Republic, as well as to provide for the appointment of a Co-ordinator for Intelligence as chairperson of the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee, and to define his or her functions.

This Act defines the primary functions of the National Intelligence Agency as being to gather, correlate, evaluate, and analyze domestic intelligence to identify any threat or potential threat to the security of the republic or its people; supply intelligence regarding any such threat to the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee, and to conduct and coordinate counter intelligence regarding counter- intelligence to identify any threat/ potential threat to the South African Police Service for all purposes of investigating any offence or alleged offence.

The NIS’s main functions include the fulfilling of a proactive, anticipatory and early warning role of scanning and assessing the local domestic security situation to identify and report any signs or warning signals or threats to the constitutional order to the policy maker or executive department, and to perform a reactive monitoring role of tracking events when a threat or crime had been identified or when a crisis had already arisen, without duplication of the role of the other executive departments. The main purpose of the monitoring role is to enhance the investigation and prosecution process. Another function of this act is to provide an integrated, multi- analytical strategic projective assessment and to enhance policy evaluation and formulation.

Establishment of the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee

This committee, at the time of establishment, consists of the Co-ordinator for Intelligence, who shall be the chairperson; the Director-General of the Agency; the Director-General of the Service; the chief of the intelligence division of the National Defence Force; and the head of the intelligence division of the South African Police Service.

Some of the main functions of the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee include the coordination the intelligence supplied by the members of the National Intelligence Structures to the committee and interpret such intelligence for use by the State and the Cabinet for the purposes of the detection and identification of any threat or potential threat to the national security of the Republic; the protection and promotion of the national interests of the Republic; to co-ordinate and prioritize intelligence activities within the National Intelligence Structures; to prepare and interpret intelligence estimates; to produce and disseminate intelligence which may have an influence on any state policy; to co-ordinate the flow of national strategic intelligence between such departments; to co-ordinate the gathering of intelligence and without delay to evaluate and transmit such intelligence and any other intelligence at the disposal of the National Intelligence Structures and which constitutes departmental intelligence, to the department concerned; and to make recommendations to the Cabinet on intelligence priorities.


State Security Agency, (2003), “National Strategic Intelligence Act 39 of 1994” from State Security Agency [online] Available at [Accessed: 11 February 2015].

Intelligence services oversight act no. 40 (1994)

The Intelligence services oversight act was implemented to provide for the establishment of a Committee of Members of Parliament on Intelligence and to define its functions; for the appointment of Inspectors-General of Intelligence and to define their functions; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, which will, subject to the Constitution, perform the oversight functions which include the administration, financial management and expenditure of the Services; and, in respect of the administration, financial management and expenditure of the Intelligence Services Entities. The Committee shall consist of 15 members of Parliament appointed on the basis of proportional representation.


The Auditor-General should have an audit report compiled where certain important points should be considered, including the financial statements of the Services, Academy and Comsec; any audit reports issued on those statements; and  any reports issued by the Auditor-General on the affairs of the Services and the Intelligence Services Entities.


State Security Agency, (2003), “National Strategic Intelligence Act 39 of 1994” from State Security Agency [online] Available at [Accessed: 25 February 2015]. 


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