Thursday, May 30, 2019

FITZ: The white spy in Kenyatta's ranks

I must confess a prejudice: I never liked the South African=born Bruce Mackenzie. He came to fore fighting for white colonist rights and the next thing you know he is flying the black nationalist flag. Something very fish I thought.

Excerpt reproduced with the kind permission of the de Souza family

Forward to Independence Fitz de Souza My Memoirs is available from Amazon Books

In an Introduction to Fitz’s book, Victoria Brittain (the former Guardian correspondent, author and playwright mentions: A fourth assassination, of Bruce Mackenzie, the Minister of Agriculture, a South African-born former RAF pilot in the Second World War came from outside and well illustrates the ruthless geopolitical high stakes world that did not suit de Souza. Mackenzie was killed when his airplane blew up over the Ngong Hills with a bomb placed in a present from Idi Amin of Uganda as payback for Mackenzie’s role in Kenya’s assistance to the Israelis’ ending of the 1976 Entebbe hostage crisis. An Air France plane was hijacked to Entebbe by a Palestinian splinter group of the PFLP and two German revolutionaries demanding the release of 40 Palestinian prisoners in Israel and 13 in four other countries. Forty-five Ugandan soldiers and three hostages were killed and 30 planes of the Ugandan air force destroyed by the Israeli rescue raid. The leader of the Israeli commandos was also killed – he was the older brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mossad’s chief had a forest planted in Israel in Mackenzie’s name. De Souza recounts a telling, earlier Mackenzie moment when they were together in London with Kenyatta after his release from prison. Kenyatta, who had no money, would enthusiastically eat three or four steaks at dinner, and they were staying at the Cumberland Hotel in central London, all well beyond their means. Mackenzie paid for everything and when de Souza protested and insisted on sharing the cost, told him that in fact he was not paying anything as the consul at the Israeli Embassy had arranged with the hotel owner, Joe Lyons, to cover all the group’s expenses.

On the 14th of August came the momentous day: after nine years in detention, Jomo Kenyatta was a free man. Around the globe, all eyes were on him as never before, waiting for him to make some decisive move. One of the first things we arranged was a delegation to London with James Gichuru, Tom Mboya and a few others. Also with us was the white South African Bruce McKenzie. Bruce was something of an enigma, but, as we were to discover, he would prove very useful to Kenyatta. An RAF pilot during the Second World War, he had been shot down twice, the second time over the Mediterranean where he had drifted for two days with most of his face blown away.

Awarded the DFC bar, and with his jaw rebuilt, he had come to Kenya in 1946 and set up as a farmer. By now in his early forties, about ten years older than me, we had first met in Parliament as national members, he for the Europeans. Then suddenly, I discovered he was in KANU and anti-European, saying emphatically we had to fight them. It didn’t make sense to me – why had this man suddenly changed sides? I remembered in one of our first KANU meetings, as Bruce was shouting against the whites, Jackson Angaine, an African who was sitting behind me, muttered, ‘This bastard, he was a torturer in the camps, he dislocated my thigh trying to get a confession.’

Although a good farmer, Bruce always seemed short of cash. Once when he was staying in a flat in Nairobi West, he asked me to lend him 300 shillings for the rent, which I did for three months. On another occasion quite out of the blue he asked, ‘Fitz, do you like chicken?’ I nodded, attaching no significance to the question. A couple of days later my mother told me that a ‘Mzungu’ had come in a pickup truck and delivered 70-odd chickens, plucked and cut up. Having no fridges then, I told my mother she had best give the meat away to her friends. Then one day, Bruce said to me, ‘You know Kenyatta, can you introduce me?’ Sure, I told him, and sent a request to Kenyatta, who invited us over to his farm at Gatundu at 5.30 in the morning. I was surprised to find him already dressed and down in the valley inspecting his crop. He shook hands with Bruce and they talked about farming. Kenyatta seemed to take to him straightaway. Bruce then said, ‘You know Mzee, I don’t think this maize you’ve planted is the best variety, it’s the hybrid stuff you want. It’ll yield three or four times what you’re getting now.’ Kenyatta said he’d look into it. The next thing we knew, Bruce was replanting all his maize for him. 

The real intrigue though began when we got to London. We realised Kenyatta had no money and that we’d have to pay for him. The Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch was £3 a night, a week’s wages for many. Kenyatta also liked to eat well, especially after his time in prison, often putting away three or four steaks for dinner. When we asked for the bill, however, the manager informed us that it had already been taken care of. ‘By whom?’ I asked. ‘Mr Mackenzie.’ Surprised, I told Bruce he was very kind, but knowing he was hard up, he must at least let me pay my share. It was then that he put me in the picture; Izzi Sommen, Consul at the Israeli Embassy, had arranged with Joe Lyons, who owned the hotel, to cover all our expenses. Lyons ran the large chain of ‘Corner Houses’, where in my student days in London I had enjoyed many a cheap meal. He was also Jewish. Apparently the Israelis, mindful of their interests in a future independent Kenya, were anxious to forge a relationship with Kenyatta. Bruce it seemed had, behind the scenes, been the intermediary. It would not be the only time he played such a part. Previously, Kenyatta had always been broke, and I remember when he came out of prison and found his house demolished by the British Government, he asked us if we could find some money to help him build just a simple garage to live in. We had previously raised small amounts from donations, but things were always tight. After meeting Bruce, however, Kenyatta was mysteriously never short of cash.    


About two weeks had gone by when walking on the street past the Standard Bank in Nairobi one day, I heard someone behind me. I looked around and saw Bruce McKenzie hurrying to catch up with me. His manner was friendly, chatting about general things, but I sensed something more, something he wanted to say. Bruce was a big man, with a strong handshake that overpowered you, and I felt that strength in him now. ‘Fitz,’ he said, ‘I like you very much, you’re a good friend.’ I said, ‘Bruce, have you been sent to talk to me about Pio.’ He nodded. I said, ‘To warn me, that if I carry on asking questions, the same is going happen to me?’ Bruce said yes, this was the message he had been asked to give me.

Then Mungai came to see me. He was a mysterious figure, some hinted he had been a Mau Mau leader, others a Government spy. Telling me that I was now on a ‘wanted list’, he reached in his pocket and took out a pistol, complete with licence, advising me to keep it for protection. I had been under threat before, when Pio had been arrested and I had driven across the border to Uganda. The concern then was possible imprisonment. This was different. Pio was gone, and Bruce had come to tell me, on whose authority I did not know, that I could be next. Mungai had confirmed it. I had seen Pio’s limp body carried from his car, the small hole in his body where the bullet had entered, witnessed Emma’s shock and grief. As the reality of the danger I was in hit me, I became very nervous. I took some Valium, and not knowing what else to do booked into the Hilton Hotel. Nowhere in Nairobi was completely safe, but here at least there were people around, I could stay behind a locked door. How long for though? I would have to come out sometime.

I thought carefully. I was getting married in a few months. Now there were not just my parents, my brother and sister and myself to think of, but also my future wife Romola – our future lives together and in time, probably a family of our own. After a few days I let it be known that I was no longer pursuing my inquiries, checked out of the hotel and went home. I hid Mungai’s pistol in a strongbox behind a loose brick in the wall and kept the key in my pocket. Still anxious and in shock, I decided to go to England and from there, seeking a complete change of scene, take a trip to Scandinavia. At that time permission was needed to take money out of the country, so I rang Kenyatta to ask if it could be arranged. Yes, yes, he said, and gave me the name of someone who could help. Talking to Kenyatta, he was clearly very distressed and crying over the phone. When I broached the question of who might be responsible he said, ‘Do you think I could possibly have murdered my own friend?’ and said he had been equally shocked by what had happened. 

A couple of weeks later I returned for Pio’s funeral. The mourners were mostly Africans and church people. Kenyatta, who was not expected to attend, sent an ivory carving in tribute. Joe Murumbi was full of remorse, blaming himself for persuading Pio to leave the beach house at Mombasa and come back to Nairobi that day. While Pio’s alleged killer languished behind bars, sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, there were whispered rumours that the ‘powers that be’ had organised the assassination, or the Kiambu Mafia, CIA or foreign governments, and the riddle remained unanswered. 

Meanwhile, a bitter conflict from another part of the world was about to be played out in East Africa and bring the enigmatic Bruce McKenzie once more into the picture. In mid-1976, just a few months after Bruce was said to have helped capture a group suspected of planning to attack an El Al aeroplane out of Nairobi, a passenger plane from Tel Aviv was hijacked by two Palestinians and landed at Entebbe airport in Uganda. They threatened that unless 53 Palestinian prisoners in Israel and other countries were released, they would kill the passengers, many of whom were Jewish. Any rescue attempt would be made much more difficult by the fact that Idi Amin had declared his support for the hijackers. It is believed that Bruce stepped in again, flying Mossad reconnaissance agents over Entebbe and helping to persuade Kenyatta to let Israel’s planes refuel in Nairobi and cross Kenyan airspace. On the night of the 3rd of July 1976, Israeli jets destroyed several Ugandan Air Force planes on the ground, while commandos killed around 36 Ugandan soldiers and brought the majority of the hostages out unharmed. Amin, furious, issued an immediate death sentence on hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda.

Whether Amin knew of Bruce McKenzie’s role at the time of Operation Entebbe is unclear to me, but two years later Bruce flew in his light aircraft to Uganda, apparently at the dictator’s invitation. According to reports, on landing in Uganda he would always instruct his co-pilot not to leave the plane unattended for a second, or allow anyone to tinker with it. On this occasion, shortly after his meeting was due to finish, a phone call was received in Kenya asking if Mr McKenzie had returned.

Then came news of a plane coming down over the Ngong Hills. When I went to survey the site of the crash I got a terrible shock, seeing by an amazing chance among the wreckage what I felt sure were the metal plates of Bruce’s jaw, rebuilt after his wartime injuries, the facial scars hidden by bushy whiskers. If his plane had been sabotaged, how had Amin managed it? The story that emerged was that just as Bruce had been about to take off, an official ran out to the plane with a last-minute gift from the President of a carved antelope’s head. Inside the antelope was a bomb, timed to go off in mid-air over Lake Victoria, where the evidence would sink without trace, but the mechanism had apparently lagged. Bruce left behind him a wife and children from his two marriages, a reputation as a good farmer, and, as details of his long-standing relationship with both the American and Israeli intelligence services came to light, an intriguing life story.  

Copywright for the above is held by Fitz de Souza, no part or parts are to be reproduced without permission.

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