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White South African Woman Jailed 25 Years for Spying on ANC

November 27, 1987

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ A 27-year-old white woman who infiltrated the African National Congress as a spy for her native South Africa was sentenced Friday to 25 years in prison at labor on espionage charges.

Odile Harington, an arts graduate and daughter of a Johannesburg doctor, told High Court Judge Wilson Sandura before she was sentenced that she was tortured and sexually assaulted by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization security police from the time she was arrested in January.

Ms. Harington bit her lip but showed no other emotion when sentenced.

The judge refused to allow her to appeal the sentence, the maximum under Zimbabwe law.

″The most appropriate sentence in a case such as this is in my view the death penalty,″ said the judge, who is black. ″In some parts of the world the accused would ... be facing a firing squad.″

Ms. Harington entered Zimbabwe from South Africa in October 1986 posing as an anti-apartheid activist and was granted refugee status in two ANC houses in Harare. She admitted she was working for the Pretoria government’s intelligence services to spy on the ANC, the largest guerrilla organization working to overthrow the South African government.

But her defense lawyer, Julian Colegrave, argued in a trial that opened Monday that South Africa was not an enemy of Zimbabwe and that she did not spy on this country. He entered a plea of not guilty of violating the Official Secrets Act of Zimbabwe, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment.

Ms. Harington, described by state prosecutor Augustine Chigumira as ″basically a racist,″ said in mitigation before sentence that she did not support her white-led government’s policy of apartheid but wanted South Africa free from terrorism to allow peaceful reforms.

″I think my government has made it quite clear they want to get rid of apartheid, but every attempt they make they’re mocked, they are insulted and they are slandered by the world,″ she told the judge.

She told of floggings and sexual assaults by security police after her arrest in January. She was ordered arrested after she tried to smuggle intelligence information on ANC officials out to South Africa from an ANC safe house in Harare.

Her lawyer appealed for less than the maximum sentence, saying: ″This is not a Mata Hari. Or a superspy. But someone who is pathetically naive.″

Ms. Harington roused suspicion when she tried to get a police guard on the ANC house to mail an envelope of intelligence reports for her.

She tried from jail to get other inmates to send messages to South African authorities about her plight, she said at an earlier hearing.

She told the judge before sentencing she twice tried to commit suicide in Chikurubi Prison on the outskirts of Harare.

The deputy head of the South African trade mission in Harare, Willen de Groot, was in court for the sentencing. He told reporters: ″The fact remains she was not spying against Zimbabwe.″

The trade commission serves as a consulate because Zimbabwe and South Africa do not have diplomatic relations.

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