Eschel Rhoodie

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Eschel Rhoodie
Secretary of the Department of Information
In office
1972–1977

Eschel Mostert Rhoodie (1933 – 17 July 1993) was a South African civil servant, public relations man and spin doctor most famous as being one of the key players in the 1978-79 Information Scandal, also known as "Infogate" or "Muldergate". He served as the Secretary of the Department of Information between 1972 and 1977, while Dr Connie Mulder was Minister of the department.

Early career[edit]

Believing that standard diplomatic activity was insufficient to improve apartheid South Africa's negative image abroad, Rhoodie hatched secret projects with the knowledge and huge financial support of top political leaders. One example of this was the use of public funds globally to covertly entice finance journalists to write positive articles about South Africa in publications such as the Dutch weekly magazine To the Point. Rhoodie was employed as the press officer of the South African embassy in The Hague in 1971 and he made a clandestine agreement with Dutch publisher Hubert Jussen to establish the magazine. To the Point was to be secretly financed by the South African government. This secret scheme had the approval of the Prime Minister, B.J. Vorster, the chief of the Intelligence Services, General Hendrik van den Bergh, the Minister of Information, Connie Mulder and Gerald Barrie, the then head of the Department of Information.

Secretary of Department of Information[edit]

In July 1972, Rhoodie, at the age of 38, was appointed to the post of Secretary of Information. This promotion was quite controversial in South African politics, since Rhoodie was not a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond (a secret fraternal organization dedicated to the promotion of the interests of Afrikaners). He was young, dynamic, enterprising and impatient, particularly with the bureaucratic process. These were the qualities that enabled him to get things done.

Shortly after his appointment to what would later be called the Dirty Tricks Department, Rhoodie recruited as his deputies Les de Villiers and his own brother, Deneys Rhoodie. Initially, To the Point was the only secret project in operation, but the Bureau of State Security had plans for a number of other schemes and long list of spooks (secret agents) willing to see them through. It wasn't long before a second project was instituted.

This time it was the creation of an organization designed to counter South Africa's sporting isolation. The result was the Committee for Fairness in Sport. Then came a scheme involving a group of influential businessmen abroad. The Club of Ten, as the group was known, had the difficult task of tackling the media, the United Nations, other institutions, individuals and countries for their perceived double-dealing and hypocrisy where South Africa was concerned. A number of influential individuals operated more covertly to improve South Africa's image abroad.

By 1975, "Project Annemarie" was conceived (Annemarie was the name of Rhoodie's teenage daughter). This was for the introduction of an English-language newspaper to counter attacks on the apartheid government by the English press - particularly the Rand Daily Mail. The man chosen to front this operation was Louis Luyt, a fertilizer millionaire. When Luyt's attempt to become a major shareholder was blocked, he announced that he intended to create his own independent newspaper.

This is how the Department of Information covertly launched The Citizen in 1976.

Other publications and front organizations like The Study of Plural Societies, the SA Freedom Foundation, and the Foreign Affairs Association were also funded by the Department of Information. During this time the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) created the Committee for Fairness in Sport to counteract South Africa's exclusion from international sport.

Aftermath of Information Scandal[edit]

When this misappropriation of state funds came to light, Rhoodie fled to Ecuador. By this time he was South Africa's Most Wanted Man and the government had instituted legal proceedings against him. In March 1979, Rhoodie moved to Great Britain where he attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain political asylum. In a BBC television interview with David Dimbleby on March 21, 1979, he strongly denied the accusations made against him, reiterating his claim that he was being made a scapegoat for the whole affair, and maintained that senior government figures, including the then Prime Minister, John Vorster, were both aware of and sanctioned the secret projects he had conducted as head of the Department of Information.

Shortly afterwards, Rhoodie moved to France, where he was eventually arrested by the French authorities and incarcerated for 88 days pending extradition to South Africa.

By 1979 Rhoodie was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The sentence was later reversed by the appeals court in Bloemfontein. Rhoodie and his wife Katie left for the United States of America in 1982. His book The Real Information Scandal, which was published in October 1983, contained sweeping allegations of big-name involvement in secret information projects, involving military alliances with Israel and the election of Ronald Reagan as US President.

Eschel Rhoodie then moved to the United States where he worked in advertising. He lived there until his death on 17 July 1993.

Bibliography[edit]

Rhoodie was a prolific writer who published the following:

  • Penal Systems of the Commonwealth: A Criminological Survey against the background of the cornerstones for a progressive correctional policy (1967)
  • South-West: the last frontier in Africa (1967)
  • The Paper Curtain (1969)
  • The Third Africa (1968)
  • Stepping into the Future (1976)
  • The Real Information Scandal (1983)
  • Discrimination in the constitutions of the World: A Study of the Group Rights Problem (1984)
  • Discrimination against Women: A Global Survey of the Economic, Educational,Social and Political Status of Women (1989)
  • PW Botha: the last betrayal (1989)

See also[edit]

References[edit]