It would have been my sister Jacki’s 59th birthday last month. But she never got further than her 30th. She was shot by Vlakplaas members under the direction of Eugene de Kock in the Maseru raid of December 1985. Next year she will have been dead for as many years as she lived. By JANE QUIN.
From then on, the dead end keeps on growing longer. Unlike the prison sentences, or lack of them, of those who killed, and conspired to kill, her and other South Africans who died in struggle for our collective liberation.
There have only been three white South African perpetrators of Apartheid crimes convicted: Eugene de Kock, Clive Derby-Lewis and Ferdy Barnard. For all the direct and indirect damage of Apartheid. For all those whose lives were deeply damaged and destroyed through death, torture, banishment, exile and jail for fighting for justice, only three people among the perpetrators are paying some sort of price.
And now two of the three come up for parole and the consideration of their release. Into life on compassionate grounds of health or having paid their debt to society.
Do I object to the release of Eugene de Kock? Absolutely. As I do to the possible early release of Clive Derby-Lewis. Chris Hani is still very dead. No compassionate grounds will ever change the deep harm and hurt of Hani’s loss for South Africa and his loved ones. The loss of Jacki remains forever as hurt to us who loved her, including going forward, the family children who were never given that chance.
Let us not forget who De Kock is; what he has done. He was responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of deaths: sometimes indirectly through the provision of arms to Inkatha supporters, the Transkei coup plotters, tampered grenades, false information and through his activities with Koevoet outside the country. De Kock was directly responsible for multiple other murders, alone and/or with others, supposedly beginning in November 1983 in Manzini, Swaziland, with shooting dead ANC members Keith McFadden and Zwelakhe (Zwelibanzi) Nyanda, for which he and the other operatives involved were awarded medals for ‘fighting terrorism’.
Just some of the other people and incidents he was directly responsible for killing over the years are:
- June 86, Chesterville, four comrades killed by Vlakplaas members. In 1990 at a judicial inquiry all the black members testified to this, as well as Brig Schoon, De Kock, Paul van Dyk and Willie Nortje.
- 1985: Abduction of unknown person from Swaziland and blowing up body at Island Rock.
- 1985: ANC member shot dead in the Transkei in a joint operation with Transkei Security Branch.
- 12 Feb 89, Swaziland: murder of Derrick Mashobane, Thabo Mohale and Portia Shabangu in Swaziland.
- 8 June 1988, Piet Retief: killed three women and one man, Makhosi Nyoka, Lindiwe Mthembu, June-Rose Cothoza and Surrendra Naidu.
- June/July 89: murder of askari M T Mtheheleng.
- July 1990: murder of Brian Nqulunga.
- March 92, Nelspruit: five people killed – alleged planned robbery by Tiso, Winnie Mandela’s bodyguard and others Khona Kabela, L Nyalende; G Mama; O Nshaota; T Leballo.
In the end, the only real political murder De Kock was actually convicted for was Bheki Mlangeni in 1991, who was not even his intended victim. Dirk Coetzee was. Jacki and the others murdered in the 1985 Maseru massacre are not even listed among those he was charged for. Let us also not forget there are ways in which he still benefits. First and foremost, he is still alive, even if he is in prison. He can be visited by family and friends should they so choose. Theoretically, at least he and his family can still potentially benefit from what he has done. Awfully, he has cultish adorers who would welcome his release.
But, ultimately, my concern is much broader than just De Kock’s life, incarceration and/or potential release. My concern is the lack of commitment to seeing justice done as a result of the TRC process.
For all its foibles and controversies and differing value for the many people that participated in it, for me, the TRC was amazing. Through the process we got to tell to the world the horror and sadness and fury of our loss in the TRC hearings. Through the amnesty process we got to see included in the names of those who caused her death members of the State Security Council who together had plotted the demise and destruction of thousands of fellow South Africans, and their foreign allies. It was a gruelling process. We sat in a room among my sister’s killers. But the truth was heard. I was politically proud as a South African and personally grateful as a family member of a victim of an Apartheid regime crime.
And then it let us all down. We as a country, failed to prosecute the named and admitted perpetrators who didn’t get amnesty. It was hard enough to swallow the terms of TRC that would see self-confessed murderers and torturers walk free if they were deemed to be telling the truth and their acts were considered to fall within the political ambit of their side. But to fail to carry through the hearings into punitive practice through the [expedient?] loss of political steam is a travesty of justice. It diminishes the TRC and erodes its value for our present and future.
So it is less De Kock that I care about, one way or another, than it is the failure of the country to carry through the value and promise of the TRC.
While De Kock sat in jail for these past 20 years of his 212-year sentence (intended to keep him locked away for life), his conspirators who were refused amnesty for Jacki’s murder have been allowed to get away scot-free. At least while he was whiling away some of his time in jail, De Kock’s testimony at their amnesty hearings helped to expose their part in the saga. Despite the careful machinations of Visser and Wagenaar, it was the lawyers for the regimes perpetrators who held [most of] the cards controlling the damage to their dirty side.
In the amnesty hearing for murderer’s of Jacki, her husband Leon Meyer, known in exile as Joe, and four other MK operatives, Nomkhosi Mary Mini, Lulamile Dantile, Vivian Stanley Mathee, Monwabisi Themba Mayoli (all South African citizens) and three Lesotho nationals Mankaelang Mohatle, Boemo Tau and Amelia Leseuyeho, who were “caught in the crossfire”, we heard the details of the unfolding horror story of the death of our loved ones. Of the three competing Apartheid groups trying to kill these MK cadres in Maseru, De Kock’s C1 unit from Vlakplaas got to be the ones to actually carry out the murder mission. Working with an informer, they planned and carried out an attack on a house party where they killed all the victims of the raid beside Jacki and Joe.
We heard how the informer led two members of De Kock’s unit off separately to the ‘safe house’ where Jacki and Joe lived as a family with their one-year-old daughter Phoenix. Opening the door to a familiar voice, Jacki apparently shouted in alarm to Joe as she was confronted not by a friend but by two armed men. They shot her. Dead. Then they shot Joe. Then they left. Joe didn’t die immediately. He crawled as far as the neighbours’ home before he died a few hours later. Left alone in the house with her dead mother was Phoenix, who’d had her first birthday just two days before.
As we pushed for the full story at the amnesty hearings, we heard more about the roles of those higher up in the chain of command. We got a glimpse De Kock’s commander sitting in his kitchen at home in silk dressing gown, smoothly sipping morning coffee with lily-clean hands, while the ‘success’ of his orders to murder were reported to him.
In the end, through the amnesty process, common cause was found between them and the foot soldiers who carried out the physical act and conspiracy to commit murder by those who had ordered the Maseru raid.
Johannes Velde Van Der Merwe, Eugene Alexander De Kock, Willem Albertus Nortje, Izak Daniel Bosch, Nicholaas Johannes Vermeulen and Frederick Schoon were refused amnesty for the killing of Jacki, mainly on the grounds that she was not an MK member; that two armed men trained to kill in many ways including hand-to-hand combat could easily have overcome an unarmed woman surprised in her own home instead of instantly murdering her; and that murder motivated by personal racist hatred of a ‘white’ woman because she was married to a ‘coloured’ man did not qualify as the official political position of the Apartheid regime.
Yet they have never been charged in civilian life for the murders they acknowledged having participated in. For which they were refused the protection of amnesty. So how dare we as a country spend precious resources of time, money and energy considering the release of the killers who are captive, when we haven’t even bothered to bring the others to book?
Owing to the more recent additional aberration of judicial process through the bizarre precedent set in the Wouter Basson case, we cannot in this instance prosecute the foot soldiers who physically killed Jacki because they did so outside of South Africa. However, the conspiracy to commit murder by those who ordered the killings happened right here within our borders, as members of PW Botha’s centralised control in the Security Council.
If anyone seriously considers the possibility of parole for De Kock, at least ensure it is purposeful. Although any consideration would be over-compensatory to prime evil, at least ensure some material quid pro quo. For example, in this case, his possible release should depend on the successful conviction of the conspirators in command of the murder mission. Material from the Truth Commission cannot be used directly as evidence, but the testimony of De Kock can, with full transcripts of previous explanations available to assist his memory. Better yet, keep him inside as company to the other perpetrators when they come to join him.
There can, of course, be common cause in feeling that we need to call for them and many others to be punished for all the people they harmed. But for better or worse, the TRC process was exactly for the purpose of helping us reconcile to the political murders of war. Where people who were not exonerated through that process can be brought to book for their crimes against our society, they must be. If they are not, we are all colluding with injustice yet again.
I call on the country to keep the commitment of the TRC. Charge those who were refused amnesty. Make justice be done. NOW. While unpunished perpetrators still have some life to be lost. In small recompense for the lives they took forever. DM
Photo: Eugene de Kock appears at the Truth And Reconcilation Commission (TRC) amnesty hearing with his lawyer Schalk Hugo May 24. (Reuters)