Monday, 29 July 2019

Al-Quds Palestinian Arab Radio — the intifada station

The new station attracted international attention

What was it?

Al-Quds Radio was a semi-clandestine station that broadcast to Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and neighbouring states for more than 20 years from 1988. 

It never overtly announced its precise location, though the fact that it transmitted from Syria became widely known. 

Al-Quds Radio was best known for its association with the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) of 1987-1993. 

Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

White, grey or black?

In the jargon of clandestine broadcasting and psychological warfare, Al-Quds Radio was "light grey". It was not transparent about behind-the-scenes details of its operations – location, backing, funding, management and editorial control – but listeners could correctly deduce some of those things. 

As the station's political affiliation and location became more widely known, so its position on the greyscale moved further to the lighter side.

However, the radio never became fully "white" and so its output could be disavowed by the Syrian government, which allowed it to operate.

Success or failure?

Al-Quds Radio can be seen as a tactical success for its important role in the intifada.

But it was a strategic failure. The objective of its operator (the Palestinian militant group PFLP-GC)  the end of the Israeli state  was not achieved..

Affiliation, funding, management and political stance

Affiliation: The station was established and operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine  General Command

The PFLP-GC, led by Ahmed Jibril, was a rejectionist Palestinian faction which opposed recognising or negotiating with Israel. Its main backer was Syria. 

Funding: At the time of Al-Quds Radio's launch the PFLP-GC also had close ties with Libya. The radio's long-serving director, Fadl Shururusaid in 1997  when looking back to events 10 years earlier  that the funds for setting up the station were "almost entirely" provided by Libya. He also confirmed that this funding had allowed Al-Quds Radio to buy its own equipment (i.e. rather than rely on equipment provided by its Syrian hosts). [1]

Management: Fadl Shururu was a senior official in the PFLP-GC. For many years he was secretary of its Political Bureau and served as the group's chief spokesman (in his capacity as head of the PFLP-GC's Information and Central Guidance Department). 

The first mention in BBC Monitoring's records of Shururu as Al-Quds Radio's director was in March 1993. However, he may have been in charge of the station from its inception.

He regularly broadcast commentaries over the radio. For example, a schedule from 2002 showed two daily 10-minute slots for a political commentary called "Fadl Shururu's Opinion". 

In 1994, Shururu said: "The fact that the radio was launched by the PFLP-GC does not mean that it belongs to the PFLP-GC. Al-Quds Radio is the radio of the Palestinian masses inside and outside the occupied territories... It is not affiliated with any Palestinian resistance faction." [2]

Shururu died in 2009.

The PFLP-GC's logo

Political stance: Throughout its existence, Al-Quds Radio was consistently opposed to peace negotiations with Israel. 

At times, therefore, the station's output contrasted with that of the rival Voice of Palestine radio, which spoke on behalf of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

In its early days, however, Al-Quds Radio stressed the importance of Palestinian unity. "It avoids partisan politics and concentrates on the need to close ranks and face the enemy," a report from Jerusalem in Britain's Guardian newspaper said in late January 1988. [3]

Nevertheless, in a foretaste of what would become a battle of the Palestinian airwaves, on 25 January 1988 Voice of Palestine denounced its rival as a "suspect" station that sought to "don Palestinian cloth". Voice of Palestine said Al-Quds Radio had "begun transmitting a campaign of disinformation and distortion of facts, placing the names of our strugglers on lists it claims as being those of enemy agents in the heroic Gaza Strip".

Name and slogans

Full name: "Al-Quds Radio, the Palestinian Arab radio on the road to liberating the land and man"

Name in the original Arabic: Al-Quds, al-Idha'at al-Arabiyat al-Filistiniyat ala tariq tahrir al-ard wa al-insan — القدس، الإذاعة العربية الفلسطينية على طريق تحرير الأرض والإنسان

The full name can be heard being announced in the recording at this site

Other slogans were also used. For example in April 1993 it described itself as "the voice of the Palestinian people, the voice of the intifada, the voice of martyrs, the voice of deportees, the voice of those who have no voice".

The following month, Al-Quds Radio said it was "the radio of the Palestinian Arab people, the radio of the martyrs, the radio of the wounded, the radio of the detained, the radio of the universities, the radio of the workers, the radio of the mosque imams, and the radio of the uprooted".

Historical summary

Al-Quds Radio operated for more than two decades from 1988. 

The station's greatest influence came in its earliest years. It began broadcasting on 1 January 1988, less than a month after the start of the first Palestinian intifada, and quickly gained attention among its target Palestinian audience and elsewhere.

"Listening to the new radio station has become a must for Palestinians and others who want to know what is happening," the Guardian reported later that month. "Accuracy is a powerful weapon. Al-Quds has repeatedly broadcast the names, ages and occupations of Palestinians hurt or arrested in clashes with the security forces. It can be intimidating, too, revealing the names and addresses of Palestinians said to be collaborating with the Israelis, including Arab policemen and employees of the West Bank civil administration." [3]

The Independent (London) said in the same month about the station's involvement with the intifada: "Most significant are the real operational instructions given to the population: when to strike, and how and where to demonstrate. The instructions given often repeat the precise content of leaflets handed out throughout the occupied territories and East Jerusalem." [4]

The influence of Al-Quds Radio influence waned with the end of the intifada in the early 1990s and the signing by Israel and the PLO of the 1993 peace agreement, which was a strategic defeat for the PFLP-GC.

The launch a few years later of pan-Arab satellite TV channels such as Al Jazeera (1996) and the emergence of the internet transformed the region's media environment and further reduced Al-Quds Radio's importance.

Al-Quds Radio remained on the air well into the 21st century, although its impact on the second intidafa (2000-2005) did not match that during the first uprising.

Operational model

Al-Quds Radio's operating model was strikingly different from the rival radio broadcasts of the time by the PLO. 

The latter were made via the state networks of various sympathetic Arab countries. In the late 1980s these included Iraq (which hosted the PLO's central radio operations after the group was forced to abandon broadcasts from Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982), Algeria, North Yemen and South Yemen. 

This arrangement left the PLO entirely reliant on the host broadcasters for airtime, which was generally made available on a limited basis.

For example, even the PLO's central radio only had three hours of airtime a day on Iraqi transmitters by 1988. Other host broadcasters were even less generous: Algerian state radio, for example, provided just one hour a day.

In contrast, Al-Quds Radio was a standalone operation with its own studios and transmitters, and was broadcasting for nine hours a day from the start, later increased to 11 hours daily. 


Al-Quds Radio broadcast from Syria, which backed the PFLP-GC.

Its powerful mediumwave (AM) transmitter was thought to be at Daraa, in the far southwest of Syria, close to the Jordanian and Israeli borders. (Initially it was suggested, incorrectly, to be based in southern Lebanon - see footnote 5.)

In March 1994, the Jordanian weekly newspaper Assabeel published a feature on Al-Quds Radio by a sympathetic reporter who had visited its HQ in an unnamed residential district of Damascus. This would have been the station's editorial offices and studios, rather than the location of its transmitters. [1]

A variety of Post Office Box addresses were announced for listeners' letters, including in Damascus, Beirut, Aden, Tripoli (Libya) and Kuwait. The Damascus address (P.O. Box 5092) was used for many years. 

In 1998, the station also announced a physical address in Daraa (c/o Ra'id Talib al-Hariri, near the Women's Arts College, Nuwah Road, al-Shaykh Miskin, Daraa).


Broadcasting schedule: At its launch in January 1988 the station was on the air at 0900-1400 and 1600-2000 local times. Later, the gap at 1400-1600 was filled, providing continuous broadcasts between 0900 and 2000, a total of 11 hours a day.

In April 1996, the broadcasting hours were cut to nine hours a day, at 0800-1700 local time, with the main news bulletins at 1230 and 1630.

Later in the 1990s and into the following decade there was evening programming, but only on the FM frequencies.

Languages: Most output was in Arabic, but from the start there was also material in Hebrew and English. Later, programmes in French, Italian, Romanian, Russian and Spanish were added. 

All non-Arabic programming was dropped in the mid-1990s.

Transmission arrangements

The main frequency was 702 kHz AM (mediumwave), which had been heard with test transmissions of music since September 1987 (more than three months before regular programming began on 1 January 1988). A powerful transmitter was used on this frequency.

In a bid to escape Israeli jamming of its signals, the AM frequency was sometimes varied. This included moving the frequency to interfere with Israel Radio's Arabic service on 738 AM. Al-Quds Radio explained this behaviour in May 1994 by saying that it chose a frequency "close to that of the enemy's radio so that [their] jamming will also affect the enemy's radio".

Note reference to Al-Quds's wavelength being close to that of Israel Radio
The Guardian, 30 January 1988

Also from the start, two FM channels were announced (96.7 and 105.4). These would have been heard by an audience limited to southern Syria and Lebanon, and perhaps northern Israel.

From April 1988 a second AM transmitter was brought into use on what was called the "reserve" channel of 630 kHz.

Tests on shortwave were conducted later in 1988, on 4320 and 7460 kHz, and in 1990 on 15050 kHz. When the use of shortwave became regular the frequencies were 5990 and 5910 kHz. The latter was referred to as the "reserve" shortwave channel. 

Note that 5910 was close to the shortwave frequency (5900 kHz) used by Israel Radio's Arabic service. 

The use of shortwave was suspended in April 1996, though it may have resumed at some point. In August 2001, the station noted that financial problems had forced it to stop shortwave transmissions "over a year ago". 


Israel jammed Al-Quds Radio's signals from soon after it began transmissions in January 1988 and in subsequent years, though there were gaps in the interference, for example between February and July 1989 and between March 1991 and October 1992. 

Jamming then continued into 1993 and 1994.

In July 1994, the new radio station in the West Bank of the Palestinian Authority (which the PFLP-GC opposed) briefly used used one of Al-Quds Radio's frequencies (702 AM) before shifting to a nearby channel (675 AM). 

Later years and end of the story

By the end of the 1990s the station's best days were well behind it. In a sign that its influence had waned, Israel no longer bothered to jam it.

Broadcasts in languages other than Arabic had ceased, as had shortwave transmissions.

In early 1996, station director Fadl Shururu was forced to deny reports that it would be closed, along with other Syria-based Palestinian groups, following progress in peace talks between Damascus and Israel. [6]

The station's financial position worsened and it appealed to listeners to provide financial support to keep the station on the air.

"Regrettably, all we received were emotional letters and telephone calls. We thank them for their sympathy, but this could not provide us with spare parts," the station complained in August 2001. 

That month, Al-Quds Radio started taking commercials as a means of raising revenue, and announced that it would close both its AM transmitters and continue on FM only. It said the move was for "purely financial reasons" though there had been rumours that the Syrian government was putting pressure on the PFLP-GC to close down the station or reduce its output. 

In September 2002, the 702 AM transmitter resumed its previous schedule (daily at 0800-1700 local time). The 630 AM channel remained silent.

I can't find a definitive date for when Al-Quds Radio ceased operations. It appears to have been one of the victims of the Syrian civil war in which the PFLP-GC backed the government side. Daraa, the presumed location of the AM transmitter, was one of the birthplaces of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.

The PFLP-GC is now a very marginal group on the Palestinian political scene.

Notes and sources

Quotes from broadcasts by Al-Quds Radio and Voice of Palestine, and details of transmission schedules and jamming, have been taken from BBC Monitoring's archives. 

Other sources:

[1] Interview with Shururu in the London-based monthly Filastin al-Muslimah, October 1997

[2] Article by Abir Fuad in the Jordanian weekly newspaper Assabeel, 29 March 1994

[3] Report by Ian Black, "West Bank tunes into voice of uprising", The Guardian, 30 January 1988

[4] Report by Charles Richards, "Clandestine radio keeps Israeli forces guessing", The Independent, 22 January 1988 

[5] Location: Al-Quds Radio was initially assumed by observers to have been based in southern Lebanon, possibly because a much less powerful PLO station had been operating from the Ayn al-Hulwah refugee camp near Sidon in southern Syria since 1987. Furthermore, during its test phase in late 1987 Al-Quds Radio had aired songs praising Lebanese Shia leader leader Nabih Berri. 

Mickey Gurdus, Israel Radio's legendary one-man monitoring service, was reported on 1 January 1988, the first day of Al-Quds Radio's regular broadcasts, as saying that the station was transmitting from the Sidon area.

Even though the Israeli authorities must have known within days, if not sooner, that the transmission site was in fact in Syria, the Israeli newspaper Hadashot was still reporting on 12 January that it was "probably broadcasting from southern Lebanon".

It was only on 17 January that Israel Radio reported Gurdus as confirming the location as southern Syria.

[6] Report by Jordanian newspaper Al-Ra'y, 2 February 1996

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

"Who is this smug fellow Ingham?"

Like most posts on this blog, this one is about Radio Atlantico del Sur, the Spanish-language station operated by the British Ministry of Defence during the 1982 Falklands War.

If you are unfamiliar with Radio Atlantico del Sur you may find it useful to read an earlier post which summarises the story of what was known within the MoD as Project MOONSHINE.

Introducing Mr Bernard Ingham

Very few of those intimately involved with Radio Atlantico del Sur were public figures. One exception was Sir Frank Cooper, the top civil servant (permanent under-secretary) at the Ministry of Defence, who  despite the other pressures of an exceedingly busy time  gave time and energy to the project. 

Initially sceptical of the wisdom of such a radio station, he was won round and then championed the venture against opposition from elsewhere in Whitehall, mainly the Foreign Office.

Another public figure moved across the stage, albeit only briefly, in the RAdS drama. This was Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's chief press secretary throughout her prime ministership.

Ingham  a familiar face on British TV in the 1980s  sometimes appeared more Thatcherite than his boss, but on the issue of Radio Atlantico del Sur he took the opposite side to the prime minister.

Mr Ingham (he was not knighted until after Thatcher left office in 1990) cultivated the persona of a blunt-speaking and clear-thinking Yorkshireman whose job was to knock common sense into the fanciful heads of London journalists.

There was no good reason for Ingham to have been concerned with the planning of Radio Atlantico del Sur. It was a purely military project and, until its launch, not disclosed to the public. At most, it might have been appropriate for him to have become involved when the MoD issued a press statement on the station's launch.

But Ingham chose to intervene during early May 1982 when the MoD and FCO were arguing over whether Project MOONSHINE should go ahead.

This culminated, on 10 May, when he wrote to several senior civil servants expressing his strong opposition to MOONSHINE.

Ingham's letter

Ingham's letter in declassified Ministry of Defence file DEFE 25/502
Image credit: Lee Richards

Transcript of the letter


From the Press Secretary                            10 May 1982

Dear Nick [possibly Nicholas Fenn, head of the FCO's News Department],


You mentioned the above and, while I suspect – and very much hope – that it is dead, I should perhaps set out my views for the record. 

As I understand it, the project is intended to play downmarket propaganda tricks through a "requisitioned" transmitter with the objective of sapping the morale of the Argentines.

There are many arguments against this course but the clincher is that it would not work – except perhaps to the enhanced reputation of the BBC. It would not work for the following reasons:

  –  we live in a free democracy with a free media;

  –  any new "station" would therefore have to compete, among others, with the BBC's established reputation;

  –  to compete and to secure an audience it would presumably have to advertise itself and its "authority";

  –  it would therefore become known and the BBC, unless it was entirely cavalier with its own interests, would seek to destroy its rival at the first opportunity;

  –  the new station would thus become rapidly known as a propagandist exercise; it would soon be discredited along with the Government, some of whose Ministers would end up with a great deal of egg on their face and possibly without a job. Can you imagine the media/Parliamentary outcry if so much as a whisper of this ludicrous idea ever surfaced?

I know you feel that the idea could only damage the BBC. I think there is considerable risk of this if the idea were ever to go ahead. But the BBC could turn it to its advantage if the scenario I set out above were to prove reasonably accurate. The BBC could do much to enhance its independence if it chose to expose Operation Moonshine for what it would be.

In short, there is nothing but trouble in it for Britain. We would be a lot better off if MoD put as much effort into ensuring a prompt PR response to South Atlantic events as it apparently puts into dreaming up moonshine.

I am copying to Clive Whitmore [Thatcher's Principal Private Secretary], Sir Frank Cooper [Permanent Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence], John Groves [Director-General of the Central Office of Information], Ian McDonald [MoD chief spokesman] and Simon Fuller [South Atlantic Presentation Unit in the Cabinet Office].

Yours sincerely          

Bernard Ingham     

B. INGHAM     


Analysis: what was Ingham worried about?

Ingham's letter betrayed a number of misunderstandings about what was being proposed. 

He foresaw the planned radio station competing with "the BBC's established reputation", and this leading the BBC to "seek to destroy its rival at the first opportunity".

But Radio Atlantico del Sur was never intended in any way to compete with the BBC. Its sole target audience was members of the Argentine forces in the Falklands  not, as Ingham seemed to have thought, the very much wider audience in Argentina which listened to the BBC's Latin America service.

Similarly, Ingham appeared utterly confused between the UK and global audience for the information provided by the MoD press office, which he worried was not providing a "prompt PR response to South Atlantic events", and the purely military target for RAdS's broadcasts. 

Finally, Ingham was convinced that the project was nothing but a "propagandist exercise" that "intended to play downmarket propaganda tricks".

In fact, the radio's staff were specifically instructed not to engage in "propaganda"  if that term meant, for example, trying to persuade listeners to accept the British case for sovereignty over the islands. The staff were also told to avoid anything that could be seen as undermining Argentine troops' loyalty to their flag.

As for what Ingham called "propaganda tricks", RAdS's civilian manager Neil ffrench-Blake instructed his staff, in writing, that "No lies are to be told."

What happened next?

Ingham's bid to scupper Project MOONSHINE came to naught. 

Within a few days of his letter, the final proposal to start broadcasts had been drafted for approval by the War Cabinet, and the station went on the air on 19 May. Nothing more seems to have been heard from the Number 10 press office on the subject.

In his memoirs, ffrench-Blake says that once the War Cabinet had given its approval:
To take the pressure off, we removed all opponents to the scheme, including Mr Ingham, from our circulation list, and changed our code name [from MOONSHINE] to "PINOCCIO" [sic]. 
The day after Ingham wrote his letter, it received this rebuke in a handwritten note on an MoD memo:
Does anyone recognise the handwriting?
Image credit: Lee Richards

The handwritten comments say:
Who is this smug fellow Ingham? 
I could write in similar vein about some of his ventures.
(Not that I am pro-Moonshine)
Along with those comments, note that paragraph 2.g says: 
No. 10 Press Sec wrote to the FCO an emotive, ill-informed opposition to the Project.
And, remembering Ingham's comments about RAdS competing with the BBC, see paragraph 3.c:
The BBC... do not see Moonshine as a threat to their own efforts. 

Disclaimer: I was employed by the BBC at the time of the 1982 war, and continue to be so.
However, this is an entirely personal blog post, reflecting only my views. 

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Apartheid South Africa's radio psyops - the story of "Radio Truth"

Today, 30 March, is the last day of operations of the shortwave transmitting station at Bloemendal – usually referred to by the name of the nearby town of Meyerton – about 25 miles south of Johannesburg.

The Meyerton station is operated by the communications company Sentech which runs the transmitters across South Africa that carry most of the country's TV and radio services.

Sentech is a state-owned company that was hived off from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in the 1990s. The Meyerton site was one of the assets that Sentech inherited from the SABC.

The closure brings to an end more than 53 years of transmissions from Meyerton. The SABC began transmitting its domestic radio services from the new station in October 1965. The Radio RSA external service was inaugurated, using the Meyerton site, on 1 May 1966.

The political nature of broadcasts from Meyerton changed radically over the course of that half century, reflecting developments in South Africa and the region. During the first half of its life the Meyerton station was named after the main architect of apartheid, H.F. Verwoerd (assassinated while serving as prime minister in 1966), while the second half was spent in the post-apartheid era.

In that post-apartheid period, many well-known names in global radio – including the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, Germany's Deutsche Welle and Japan's NHK – hired airtime on the Meyerton station to broadcast their shortwave signals to Africa.

Meyerton also aired the SABC's own external services: Radio RSA (between 1966 and 1992) and its post-apartheid successor Channel Africa (from 1992 until the present). It was also used extensively to relay some of the SABC's domestic radio services.

Alongside these open broadcasts, Meyerton is assumed to have been used in the 1970s and 1980s to carry various clandestine radio stations that operated in support of the apartheid government's efforts to subvert some of the black-ruled states in southern Africa.

This article looks at one of these stations, Radio Truth, which was on the air between March 1983 and September 1990.

Radio Truth: objectives and techniques

Radio Truth presented itself as being run by patriotic Zimbabweans who were concerned at the direction their nation was being taken by the Mugabe government, which had taken power when the country (formerly Rhodesia) gained independence in 1980.

In reality, the station's purpose was to serve the interests of the South African government by undermining the Mugabe regime.

This was done through various propaganda themes, including stoking resentment among the minority Ndebele people towards Robert Mugabe's dominant Shona community.

Ndebele insurgents were active, with presumed South African support, in Matabeleland (western Zimbabwe) from 1982. Radio Truth was launched the following year. [1]

Anti-Communism was a constant theme in the station's output. Joseph Hanlon described Radio Truth in his 1986 book Beggar Your Neighbours: Apartheid Power in Southern Africa:
Its message is hardly subtle; it defends South Africa and claims that the former [Rhodesian] colonial government had been a 'pro-Western Christian democracy', while it points out that 'quietly but inexorably the tentacles of Marxism are embracing all spheres of life in our country'.
Hanlon also noted that "Radio Truth was probably connected with anti-Mozambique and anti-Angola stations that broadcast from the same area". More about this below.

Radio Truth was still banging an anti-Communist drum towards the end of its life. A commentary broadcast in April 1990 said:
We are unashamedly anti-Marxist. We believe this to be an evil and worthless ideology that can only bring disaster to our land. We will expose its ruthless nature, its reliance on force, and its utter failure to bring anything but fear, misery and poverty to those countries that subscribe to its principles. We believe fervently in the principles of democracy and the outstanding merits of free enterprise. We value highly the basic freedoms inherent in the democratic system and traditions: freedom of thought, expression, association and worship, and the right to life and liberty for every individual.
To this end, we will support all those groups and associations dedicated to the same philosophy. Where they are denied a platform by government of party decree, or by mob violence, Radio Truth will ensure that their voice is heard. [...]
We are not a relic of colonialism, nor do we envisage white rule ever returning to Zimbabwe. We accept black rule, but we wish it could be just, efficient and democratic. For all these reasons, Radio Truth is strongly opposed to the concept of a one-party state, which conflicts with everything that we stand for. We will resist ZANU-PF because we know that their policies can bring nothing but hardship and misery to our people and will destroy our national pride. So stay tuned to Radio Truth, the voice of a free Zimbabwe.
Background: Southern Africa's battle of the airwaves

Southern Africa had been fertile ground for clandestine and subversive radio in the 1970s. Activity centred around Rhodesia, where Ian Smith's government was fighting insurgents of the China-backed Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA  the armed wing of the underground political party ZANU) and the USSR-backed Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA  the armed wing of the rival ZAPU).

Rhodesia became both both a target for, and source of, such broadcasts. After Rhodesia became independent, as Zimbabwe, in April 1980 some of the focus switched to South Africa.
By the early 1980s South Africa was running clandestine radio stations targeting Angola and Mozambique, both under Marxist governments following their independence from Portugal in 1975.

Against Angola, two stations  Voz da Verdade (Voice of Truth) and Voice of the Resistance of the Black Cockerel  had been active from South Africa since the late 1970s. The latter station spoke on behalf of Jonas Savimbi's rebel movement UNITA and was often known by the acronym Vorgan, based on its Portuguese name, Voz de Resistência do Galo Negro.

Against Mozambique, Rhodesia had run Voz da África Livre (Voice of Free Africa) from July 1976. Broadcasts from Rhodesia ended in February 1980 (two months before independence) but resumed from South Africa the following month. The Mozambican authorities named the station Radio Quizumba (Hyena). In June 1983 the station's name was changed to Voz de Resistência Nacional de Moçambique (Renamo), formalising its support for the insurgents of the Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance, MNR) group. [2]

(The story of the radio activities of Renamo, and of Renamo's creation in the 1970s by Rhodesia's Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), deserves a separate article. For some details, see the 1992 book by Hilary Andersson, Mozambique: A War against the People. Rhodesia sought to use Renamo to undermine the Frelimo government that had taken power in Mozambique after independence. The Voz de Renamo radio station closed down after South Africa and Mozambique signed a non-aggression pact known as the Nkomati Accord in March 1984. Broadcasts resumed, probably from within Mozambique, in the 1990s.)

By mid-1983, by which time Radio Truth was also on the air, the South Africans were therefore running at least four separate subversive clandestine radio stations against three countries  Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

South Africa also ran various psychological radio operations in the 1970s and 1980s targeting the Cuban military forces deployed in Angola in support of that country's Communist government. I'm not covering these Spanish-language operations in this article as I'm not as confident in asserting that they emanated from Meyerton as I am with Radio Truth, Voz da Verdade, Vorgan and Voz de Renamo. This is partly because their activities are much less well documented than the English and Portuguese-language stations. [3]

Launch of Radio Truth: taking time to establish a regular schedule

Radio Truth began broadcasting in March 1983. It was first heard by BBC Monitoring with test transmissions on 10 March and its first commentary on 25 March. (Just over a year later, on 26 March 1984, Radio Truth noted that it was marking its first anniversary, using the occasion to deny that it was a South African operation and to assert that its broadcasts were not specifically aimed at the Ndebele community. Instead, it said it was the "voice of all anti-ZANU-PF parties and peoples" in Zimbabwe.)

Broadcasts appear to have been daily from the start, though the precise transmission schedule took a while to settle down. 

Initially the station was on the air with a morning programme in English (at 0630-0700 Zimbabwe time) and an evening broadcast in Shona and Ndebele (at 1900-1930 Zimbabwe time).

(Zimbabwean local time is two hours ahead of GMT.)

The Shona and Ndebele services were suspended in January 1984, resuming in August 1984.


All Radio Truth broadcasts were on a single shortwave frequency, initially 6010 kHz in the 49-metre shortwave band.

In April 1983 the frequency was changed to 4902 kHz in the 60-metre band, but in June 1983 there was a further move to 5015 kHz. (Note: 5015 was one of the channels used by state radio in Harare both before and after independence.)

Radio Truth remained on 5015 kHz for the rest of its life. (The evening transmission was carried on the frequency of 3370 kHz in the 90-metre band for a week in December 1986. This may have been because the 60-metre band aerial at Meyerton was unavailable for use at that time.)

The schedule expands

By late 1986, Radio Truth's schedule had been expanded with the addition of an evening repeat of the morning's English programme.

By the middle of 1987 there had been a further expansion with the addition of a morning transmission in Shona and Ndebele. The daily schedule was then (Zimbabwean local times):

0600-0630 Shona and Ndebele programme
0630-0700 English programme
1900-1930 Repeat of the morning's Shona and Ndebele programme
1930-2000 Repeat of the morning's English programme

This schedule remained in place until the station closed in September 1990.

Links with other stations

The New York Times reported in October 1983:
Three radio stations beam anti-Government propaganda into neighboring countries from South African territory, in part as retaliation for the antiapartheid broadcasts beamed the other way. A station called the Voice of the Resistance of the Black Cockerel has been broadcasting in Portuguese and vernacular languages in support of the Savimbi movement [in Angola].
The Voice of the Mozambique National Resistance came on the air in July [1983], four months after Radio Truth, which broadcasts in English, Shona and Ndebele to Zimbabwe.
The schedules of Voz da Verdade, Vorgan and Radio Truth were consistent with the use of the same transmitting facilities. For example, in January 1985 both Voz da Verdade and Radio Truth were using the same frequency (5015 kHz) for their dovetailed morning programmes (at 0330-0415 and 0430-0500 GMT respectively). Meanwhile, Vorgan was using 4950 kHz at 0430-0630 and 1730-1930 GMT, with Voz da Verdade using that frequency at 2000-2045 GMT.

The 1986 book Destructive engagement: southern Africa at war by Phyllis Johnson and David Martin, describes an incident in November 1983 when, presumably because of operator error, listeners tuning in for a scheduled broadcast by Radio Truth instead heard on its frequency the signature tune of the anti-Mozambique station Voz da África Livre.

Where was Radio Truth broadcast from?

Several sources in the 1980s named Meyerton as the transmitter site, though these may not have been separate individual confirmations. (See for example the above-mentioned book by Johnson and Martin, and the 1992 book South Africa's destabilisation policy: the Zimbabwe experience by Donald P. Chimanikire.)

Meyerton was indeed the obvious location. There was certainly no shortage of transmitters available there.

The website of the authoritative Transmitter Documentation Project lists a total of 17 transmitters being installed at Meyerton between 1966 and 1979.

The most powerful of these (four of 250 kilowatts and three of 500 kW) would have been used for the Radio RSA external service. The remaining 10 transmitters (all of 100 kW) were shared by Radio RSA and the SABC's domestic services.

The 1985 edition of the World Radio TV Handbook showed that at any one time a maximum of nine frequencies were in use by Radio RSA and four by the domestic services. That would have left up to four transmitters available to be used by the clandestine stations.

There was a suggestion in 1985 that the broadcasts were coming from an older SABC transmitting station at Paradys, near Bloemfontein. But elsewhere it is reported that the Paradys station closed in the late 1960s once Meyerton became fully operational.

The Paradys station was listed as still active in the 1968 edition of the World Radio TV Handbook, but the listing had disappeared by the time of the 1972 edition.

I assume that Meyerton was just the transmitter site, with the programmes being produced elsewhere. My guess is that the programmes were recorded, rather than going out live. One can only speculate where the recordings were made. It might have been at the SABC’s Auckland Park studios in Johannesburg. If this was the case, the recordings would have been played out by the Auckland Park control room down the lines used to feed the Radio RSA and SABC services to Meyerton.

Allegations of US involvement denied

The US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, David Miller, cut short his tour of duty in April 1986 following repeated criticisms by the Harare government of US foreign policy. Just days before Miller's decision was announced, Zimbabwean Information Minister Nathan Shamuyarira accused the United States of providing funds and personnel to Radio Truth

The US Embassy in Harare called the charge "preposterous" and Miller was later quoted as saying it had "no factual basis".

Writing to Radio Truth

Radio Truth gave out two addresses for listeners' letters, both of which tell a story.

The main address was a Post Office Box number in the UK, which was first announced over the air in October 1984. It was given as "Mr J. Brown, P.O. Box 4, Stockbridge, Hants [Hampshire]".

The postcode was SO20 6LB, though Radio Truth's staff appeared to be unfamiliar with the British postal system. Postcodes for three London districts and five other large British cities start with a single letter, but all others start with two letters. In the case of Stockbridge, this is SO (for Southampton).

However, the announcer at Radio Truth would read out the start of the code as "S zero", rather than giving the letter O. The announcer also announced a dash between the two parts of the code, which is never done in the UK.

Similarly, in replies from Radio Truth, the postcode was given various non-standard forms, such as incorrect spacing (e.g. S 020 6LB) and use of punctuation (e.g. S.020 6LB).

The replies were indeed signed "J. Brown".

Although letters sent to "J. Brown" at the address in Stockbridge were answered, this tiny Hampshire town was almost certainly not Radio Truth's HQ.

Two letters from Radio Truth received by listeners and now available online were dated 17 June 1986. In both cases they were in response to letters sent several months earlier (in one case as far back as January of that year). In both replies, "J. Brown" apologised for the delay and attributed it to "extreme pressure of work which has kept our limited staff fully occupied".

The delay may have instead been the result of mail sent to the P.O. Box in Stockbridge being collected only infrequently and then forwarded to South Africa to be answered (and perhaps the replies having to be returned to the UK to be posted from there – to maintain the pretence of a UK base for the station).

In addition to the UK address, Radio Truth also asked listeners to contact the station c/o a Mr Stanley Hatfield at the address of an apartment complex in Silver Spring (incorrectly given as "Silverspring"), a Maryland suburb of Washington DC.

An investigation by Robert Horvitz on behalf of Radio Netherlands in 1986 established that mail sent to "Stanley Hatfield" at the Maryland address was collected by the Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, a one-time ally of Mugabe who by the mid-1980s was an opponent of the Zimbabwean government living in self-imposed exile in the USA. Sithole told Horvitz that he forwarded the mail to another, undisclosed, address.

The end of broadcasts

Radio Truth closed down in September 1990 as southern Africa moved into a new era. Events in the region had been moving fast. The hardline South African President P.W. Botha was replaced by the reformist F.W. de Klerk in August 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist regimes across Eastern Europe later that year made Radio Truth's anti-Marxist rhetoric seem redundant. The following February, Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

De Klerk's government moved to improve relations with South Africa's neighbours, including Zimbabwe, a development that Radio Truth itself noted. A commentary broadcast by the station on 24 July 1990 said:
Political analysts see a slight thaw in the frosty relationship between our ZANU-PF government and the Pretoria regime. This was attributed, in part, to years of patient work behind the scenes by South African diplomats and representatives. It was noted that, for the past 10 years, Comrade Mugabe and his colleagues have spurned every offer of cooperation and dialogue except, of course, on the economic front, when the assistance has been to their advantage.
Even when other leaders of Frontline States began talking to the South African government at official level, our president refused to allow any government-to-government contact. He sustained, even intensified, his international campaign to isolate South Africa and toughen economic embargoes.
The first possible sign of change featured in Minister Mahachi's announcement about the lifting of our state of emergency. He referred to the good neighbour policy being pursued by Pretoria, which was now seriously extending the hand of friendship. How far ZANU-PF intends to reciprocate, if at all, remains to be seen.
Hopes have been raised that Odile Harington might be given an early release from jail on compassionate grounds. She was initially sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for trying to infiltrate the ANC cells in our country. This vicious sentence was subsequently cut in half on appeal, when note was taken of her terrifying ordeal at the hands of her captors and interrogators. She was cruelly tortured, starved and sexually abused – facts ignored by the original trial judge, Mr Justice Sandura.
South African spy Odile Harington, referred to in that commentary, was released by Zimbabwe at the start of November 1990, in a move that the UPI news agency at the time linked to the closure of Radio Truth less than two months earlier:
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Zimbabwe has released a South African woman serving a 12-year prison sentence for spying on the African National Congress. The release marked a significant thawing of relations between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the South African government.
Odile Harington, 29, released Thursday [1 November 1990] after serving nearly three years of her sentence, was put aboard a special flight back to South Africa and received a welcome from President Frederik de Klerk in Pretoria Friday, a government statement said. [...]
The Zimbabwean news agency, Ziana, confirmed Friday that Harington was pardoned by Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980 and remained a most consistent foe of apartheid among the southern African leaders.
"The president's decision was prompted by the general improvement in the political climate in southern Africa, including the cessation of hostile acts against Zimbabwe by the South African government," Zimbabwean Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa told Ziana.
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, had been the target of South African destabilization efforts since the end of white minority rule in 1980, including scattered sabotage attacks by South African agents. At the center of the southern African region, Zimbabwe not only sheltered ANC exiles but allowed its territory to be used as a base for guerrilla attacks into neighboring South Africa.
While leaders of less prosperous southern African states, including Zambia and Mozambique, have welcomed moves by South Africa to patch up relations with its black-ruled neighbors and expand economic ties, Mugabe has remained publicly cool toward de Klerk.
The thaw began publicly last month when a parliamentary delegation visited Harare and held talks with Zimbabwean legislators and the South African government halted broadcasts of the anti-Marxist Radio Truth into Zimbabwe.
Recordings of Radio Truth

There are two compilations on YouTube of fairly good quality off-air recordings of broadcasts by Radio Truth, both of which start with the station's bird-call tuning signal.

The first is said to be recordings of the 30-minute English-language morning broadcasts of 1 and 2 November 1984. Note the announcer reading out the UK postal address and speaking of the "evils of Marxism".

The second includes two complete English broadcasts, and some vernacular material. These recordings are also said to have been from 1984. However, one of them refers to the outcome of the 9 June 1985 presidential election in Mali, and appears to have been made shortly before the June-July 1985 general election in Zimbabwe.

Notes and sources

[1] The New York Times explained in November 1987: "The anti-Government rebels have operated in the Matabeleland countryside surrounding this city [Bulawayo] since 1982, generally with violent protests against what they assert is Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's unfair treatment of the opposition leader Joshua Nkomo as well as Mr. Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union and the Ndebele ethnic group supporting it. Western diplomats in the region say the dissidents are believed to be receiving supplies and training from neighboring South Africa. Some weapons have been traced to South Africa, and Radio Truth, a station that supports the dissidents, is beamed into Zimbabwe from South Africa."

[2] Renamo's formal name was later changed slightly from Resistência Nacional de Moçambique to Resistência Nacional Moçambicana.

[3] These Spanish-language stations targeting Cuban forces included Radio Siboney, Cubanos en África and one said to have been operated by the anti-Castro exile group Agrupación Abdala. Cuban military forces were deployed in Angola from 1975. Their withdrawal began in 1989 and was completed in 1991.

The quotes from Radio Truth's broadcasts and details of its schedule, and that of the other clandestine stations, have been taken from BBC Monitoring publications of the time.

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.