On March 29, 1988, at the age of 52, anti-apartheid activist Dulcie September was assassinated in central Paris. Working as the representative of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in France, she was killed when she was about to open the door of her office in Paris, Petites-Ecuries’ Street after collecting the mail.
Reports said five bullets of caliber 22 were shot in her head and her body was later found lying next to the stack of mail that day. September’s death caused shock and outrage in her home country South Africa and in France. About 60,000 people and political organizations marched through the streets of Paris to condemn the incident.
Some weeks before her death, she had expressed fears of no longer feeling safe and had asked for police protection from the French Minister of the Interior but was denied. At the time, she was investigating alleged illegal arms deals between France and South Africa. Three major investigations were conducted by the French government, the ANC, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa but all failed to solve her murder. After 34 years, September’s murder remains unsolved.
More than 20,000 people attended September’s funeral, which turned into a mass anti-apartheid demonstration but until the release of the documentary Murder in Paris and Evelyn Groenink’s book Incorruptible: The Story of the Murders of Dulcie September, Anton Lubowski and Chris Hani, not many people knew who she was.
Born in 1935, September was raised in the suburbs of Cape Town, attending public schools before heading to Battswood Teacher Training College. In the 1950s when she became a teacher, she saw how Black and mixed-race children were not being given the same kind of education as White kids had. Amid racial apartheid in the education system, she got involved in politics and joined the Unity Movement, however, she left after finding issues with how the group was running affairs and became a member of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Africa.
Thanks to her political activities and involvement in several anti-apartheid organizations in South Africa including the NLF, she was jailed in 1964, serving five years in prison for sabotage and inciting political violence, even though she denied the charges. While in jail, she went on with her studies and obtained a teaching diploma. In 1969 when she was released, authorities banned her from teaching so she left to study in London in 1974, where she also started working for the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
September later joined the African National Congress, working first in the ANC headquarters in Lusaka before the ANC in 1984 named her Chief Representative to France, Luxemburg, and Switzerland. “One of her main commitments in this position was lobbying to stop investments in South Africa and enforcing sanctions against the country,” according to Afrolivresque.com.
She established an ANC office on the 4th floor at 28 Rue de Petites-Ecuries in Paris and performed the aforementioned roles despite the harassment and death threats she received from supporters of the apartheid government.
Africasacountry reports that from her small ANC office without much resources she was able to mobilize opposition to apartheid in Europe. She relied mostly on contacts with leftist trade unions and other groups, such as the French trade union federation, Confederation General du Travail (CGT), the anti-racist Mouvement Contre le Racisme et pour l”Amitie entre les Peuples, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the communist-aligned women’s organization, l’Union des Femmes Francaises.
By 1987, the death threats she was receiving had increased. The following year, she was killed. No one has been arrested for her murder even though many suspect the Pretoria apartheid government of South Africa of the crime. There were reports of South African death squads murdering ANC members in Europe but investigative reporter Evelyn Groenink told Afrolivresque.com that there was no evidence at all of those death squads.
“Collecting all the stories about ‘death squads in Europa’, and meticulously tracing their sources, I found that the sources of each and every one of these were the French secret services,” she said, highlighting that September’s mission was a serious threat to not only the South African regime but also to Europe’s arms dealers.
Per Groenink’s investigations, she “concluded that this had been a French secret service operation motivated by a need to safeguard very valuable present and future arms contracts with South Africa, as well as to protect secret operatives who were establishing contacts with ANC leaders at the time.”