Johannesburg — THE arrest of 15, mostly South African, alleged coup plotters in Equatorial Guinea at the weekend came just hours after a tip-off from SA's intelligence services that trouble was brewing, senior government spokesmen confirmed yesterday.
The arrests were followed shortly by the detention in Zimbabwe late on Sunday of 64 people, including 20 South Africans, believed to have been on their way to Equatorial Guinea as part of the coup group.
The acknowledgement that SA's intelligence services were involved came as questions were asked about whether SA could have done more to stop the coup attempt sooner.
However, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea was fulsome in his praise of SA's involvement in foiling the alleged coup.
"We spoke with the South African president, who warned us that a group of mercenaries was heading towards Equatorial Guinea. Angola also sent messages to tell us to be vigilant."
President Thabo Mbeki's spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, said yesterday that SA's law enforcement agencies were "in touch on a regular basis with their African counterparts as part of their mandate to prevent the unconstitutional overthrow of governments".
The alleged mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe initially claimed they were heading for the Democratic Republic of Congo's diamond producing area, Mbuji-Mayi, to assist in mine security, but the link between them and those arrested in Equatorial Guinea became increasingly clear yesterday.
South African Nick du Toit appeared on state television in Equatorial Guinea claiming to be the leader of the group, whose mission was to abduct Obiang and force him into exile. "It wasn't a question of taking the life of the head of state, but of forcing him into exile and then installing the government in exile of Severo Moto Nsa," he said.
This tallies with a report in Africa Confidential, which said it had learned that both the arrests in Equatorial Guinea and the arrests in Zimbabwe were part of a plot to overthrow Obiang and install Spanish-based opposition leader Moto.
The alleged coup plotters, who flew into Harare airport on Sunday, appear to have been duped by Zimbabwean military officers, led by Col Tshinga Dube, director of Zimbabwe Defence Industries.
"Last week, some of the ringleaders flew into Harare to meet Col Dube and paid 180000 for a consignment of AK-47s, mortars and 30000 rounds of ammunition. But when the main team of mercenaries arrived they were all arrested," Africa Confidential said.