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The Neptune Strategy: Shell Propped up Apartheid in South Africa

By John Donovan

In 1987, Shell Oil Co implemented a secret 265 page plan devised by a Washington based firm, Pagan International.

The devious plan was designed to undermine support for critics of Shell’s policy of propping up the despised racist apartheid regime in South Africa, just as Shell and its Nazi leader, Sir Henri Deterding,  propped up Nazi Germany before WW2. 

The objective of Shell’s secret campaign was to neutralize boycott groups, including church and civil rights groups, unions and academics.

Extract from a recently published book: Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark:

In the Netherlands, two investigative journalists interviewed Pagan and Shell staff about the Neptune Strategy, and exposed a spy who – on behalf of Pagan and Shell – had posed as a journalist to gather information from representatives of targeted activist groups…” (From page 46)

The plan outlined a sophisticated plot to drive a wedge between black organizations opposing Shell’s policy in South Africa. It also included an intelligence gathering operation  using informers and spies, at least one of which, Alan Fuehrer, posed as a journalist representing the “International Barometer. ” He failed to disclose that the publication was a front for Pagan and only admitted the truth when confronted with hard evidence.

On page 67, the author of the book, Eveline Lubbers, reveals that Shell had secret meetings with church delegates.


The secretary of the Dutch Council of Churches, Wim van der Zee, concluded that Shell was trying to split the churches…

The revelations on page 68 are even more damning, with The Church of England accusing Shell of dishonesty and outright deception.

This extract from page 75 is entirely consistent with my experience in dealing with people at the highest level of Shell.

Misleading shareholders, activists and the press were essential elements of both the corporate strategy and operational damage control.

Shell officials admitted that the company had commissioned the Neptune Strategy plan, but attempted to downplay the scope and effect of the operation.

On page 111, the book reveals how Shell subsequently got involved in setting up with former MI6 officers, a corporate intelligence firm – Hakluyt, which on Shell’s behalf, continued the policy of targeting Shell’s critics, as reported in The Sunday Times front page lead story: MI6 ‘firm’ spied on green group

We have good reason to believe that this operation included targeting us, as we were besieged by undercover activity during that same period, part of which was admitted by Shell lawyers, but only after being confronted with irrefutable evidence. Shell global spying operations against us have continued in more recent years, as confirmed in Shell internal documents.

Shell’s fear of online criticism and its related monitoring of relevant websites is dealt with on the same page, 111.

The history and modus operandi of Hakluyt is covered in considerable detail in this highly informative book, which will be of great interest to anyone interested in Royal Dutch Shell, particularly its dark side, which emerged again in its support for the racist regime in South Africa.

(I note the evidence that Hakluyt repeatedly lied about its close association with Shell. This was before Shell admitted the truth after being cornered. We believe that Hakluyt also lied to us. Titled Shell directors were the ultimate spymasters at Hakluyt and major shareholders.)

A British journalist, Martin Bailey, published several books exposing the activities of Shell and BP in Southern Africa.

The following are extracts from his booklet “SHELL AND BP IN SOUTH AFRICA” published in 1977 by the joint Anti-Apartheid Movement/Haslemere Group.

(From page 1)

Shell and BP play vital role in the South African economy. Together they import, refine, and distribute 40 per cent of the country’s petroleum requirements. The two companies have therefore played a crucial role in thwarting attempts to impose an oil embargo against the apartheid regime. In addition they appear to have been major suppliers of fuel to both the South African armed forces and the rebel government in Rhodesia.

From page 8

Companies like Shell and BP, which have been helping South Africa thwart the oil embargo, must therefore bear part of the responsibility for the protracted and violent struggle which has already begun.

From page 11

Shell and BP are playing a major role in helping South Africa thwart attempts by the United Nations to impose an oil embargo against the apartheid regime. The two companies, by actually supplying the armed forces and police, are deeply involved in supporting the repression of the black population of South Africa.

From page 35

Shell and BP, by operating in South Africa, have been helping to prop up-and profit from-the apartheid system. While the two petroleum companies continue to do business in South Africa they are oiling the wheels of apartheid. Shell and BP have now become an integral part of the repressive apartheid system.

Reference was made to Martin Bailey and his booklet in a section of volume 3 of “A History of Royal Dutch Shell.”

This edition of the official history of Shell, published in 2007, was written by a Dutch historian Prof. Dr. Keetie Sluyterman, a professor of business history at the Dutch Utrecht University and a specialist in Dutch business history. She was paid by Royal Dutch Shell.

Four members of Royal Dutch Shell senior management acted as co-editors. Three of whom – The Rev. Fraudster Sir Philip Watts, Jeroen van der Veer, and Jyoti Munsiff, have a track record of covering-up matters embarrassing to Shell. So it is no great surprise that the section dealing with Shell’s activities in South Africa appear more like a defense of its conduct than an impartial account of the relevant history.

Passing reference is also made to Pagan International, but predictably without any mention of the sinister aspect of its activities on Shell’s behalf.

Some extracts from chapter 5

page 314

At the same time the publication of the Dutch pressure group Kairos Shell in South Africa appeared in Britain in the English language. Both inspired the journalist Martin Bailey to dig further into the flows of oil and oil products in Southern Africa. In 1977 he published the report Shell and BP in South Africa, based to a large extent on the earlier Kairos report.

The explanation Shell gave ran as follows: Shell companies operate under the laws of countries in which they exist. It happened that under South African law companies were unable to refuse to supply customers or to control the ultimate destination of products sold to their customers.

(Kairos was a small Dutch group of Christians against apartheid)

Extract from page 319

Shell argued that it had worked in South Africa for decades. It was a consistent policy of the international Group not to be involved in local politics and to abide by the national laws in the countries in which they operated. Furthermore, its subsidiary Shell South Africa followed a progressive social policy. Leaving the country would have no positive effect for the population, because their facilities would simply be taken over by others, and those could easily follow a less progressive social policy, making the situation worse rather than better. Kairos stuck to its requests to Shell to withdraw from South Africa and stop the oil deliveries. Shell declined to meet those requests.

Extract from page 323

A labour dispute at the Rietspruit coal mine, of which Shell South Africa was a 50 per cent owner though not the operator, set in motion a consumer boycott against Shell Oil in the USA by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). This was followed in January 1986 by a broader boycott of Shell service stations and Shell products by TransAfrica, the Free South African Movement and many other institutions, ranging from labour unions to churches and civil rights movements. During a successful media campaign consumers were encouraged to cut up their Shell credit card. Some even acquired such a card in order to cut it again as a demonstration. Similar calls for action followed against Shell companies in the Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Australia. Though by mid-1986 Shell had noticed no effect on the business, management nevertheless became concerned over the onslaught of negative news.

To counter the many attacks Shell reconsidered its customary policy of reticence and decided to be more active in explaining its reasons for maintaining business activities in South Africa. Van Wachem gave an interview for two Shell publications, Shell World and Shell Venster, in which he underlined Shell’s rejection of apartheid: ‘Every form of discrimination is contrary to human dignity and must therefore be rejected. That is not only my personal view, but as long as I can remember – and I have been working in the Group for some thirty-two years – we have always followed a policy of equal opportunities and equal rights.’ In his view, apartheid was not only morally indefensible but also economically counter-productive: ‘It is an unworkable and hopeless system.’ In the interview the following statement of Bishop Desmond Tutu was quoted: ‘Foreign companies in South Africa must stop fooling themselves by saying that their presence is to our advantage. That is nonsense. Whether they like it or not, they are supporting a wicked system.’

Extract from page 326

In 1988 Shell PA staff concluded that the morale of the employees within Shell companies, particularly in the Netherlands, was being affected by the ‘slow drip process of vilification’…

Extract from 327

On the streets the campaign to oust Shell from South Africa became more violent with the rise of new and more aggressive action groups. Attacks on Shell property in Europe, in particular the Netherlands, rose from about sixty incidents in 1986 to a peak of nearly 600 in 1989.

Extract from page 330

Campaigners in the USA discovered that Shell Oil had hired Pagan International, a Washington-based consulting firm, to advise them how to tackle the boycott of Shell products in the USA. Their report, the Neptune Strategy, came into the hands of church campaigners…

As previously indicated, there is no mention whatsoever of the intelligence gathering operation by Pagan using informers and spies on behalf of its client, Shell Oil Co.

Finally, some extracts from an African Activist Archive. Many reference sources are provided in the document:

Shell has supplied oil products to the South African military and police, known the world over for their brutality. Using Shell’s oil, South Africa’s police have entered the black townships and have shot down hundreds of unarmed blacks over the past year. Using Shell’s oil, South Africa’s military has launched several invasions of neighboring countries such as Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, and Mozambique.

Shell continues to operate in Namibia, illegally occupied by Pretoria’s military, in contravention of United Nations decrees. The company has supplied South Africa’s military in Namibia with oil so that it can maintain its hold on that country against the will of the Namibian people and the international community.

Shell operates a coal mine in South Africa and exports that coal abroad. Because the coal is mined under virtual slave-labor conditions, Shell is able to undercut American-mined coal and American jobs.

Shell has been cited as a vicious union-busting company by the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa, the Miners’ International Federation, and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions because of its anti-worker policies at its Rietspruit coal mine.

The London Observer revealed in 1984 that Shell was paid almost $200 million in secret “incentives” by the South African government in 1980 to break oil sanctions. The newspaper based its story on a censored South African government report presented to the South African parliament in July 1984. (Article published by The Observer 5 August 1984)

All in all, another example of Royal Dutch Shell putting profit before principle and resorting to reprehensible underhand tactics to that end, totally at odds with its claimed business ethics.

Article Ends:

Link to the relevant section from “A History of Royal Dutch Shell, Volume 3” (27 pages). All images appearing in the above article are from this section of the work.


Los Angeles Times: Shell Oil Deplores Apartheid but Says Boycott Is Misguided: 13 April 1986

Lodi News-Sentinel: Shell mounts campaign against critics: Thursday 1 October 1987

Houston Chronicle News Archive: Apartheid focus of plan made for Shell/`Neptune Strategy’ seeks to shift public emphasis away from S. Africa policy: 10 Jan 1987


Shell South Africa says it opposes apartheid but critics in the United States and Europe maintain that a number of its practices – including sales to the police and military – help prop up the apartheid system.

The Times of Zambia: Shell defendant in Apartheid lawsuit: accused of “aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime against humanity”

ARTICLE: U.S. unions urge boycott of Shell to fight apartheid: 19 Jan 1986

ARTICLE: Shell, South Africa and Apartheid: 16 Oct 2012

ARTICLE: Shell propped up racist apartheid regime in South Africa: 24 Nov 2012

ARTICLE: The Neptune Strategy: Shell, propped up Apartheid in South Africa: 26 Nov 2012

ARTICLE: Shell accused of benefiting from South African apartheid-era land law: 21 March 2013



Information from Shell about its support, led by its then Director General, Sir Henri Deterding, for Nazi Germany:

A History of Royal Dutch Shell Volume 1 (38 pages) HD 600 dpi

A History of Royal Dutch Shell Volume 2 (29 pages) HD 600 dpi

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