Opinionista Stephen Grootes 12 June 2014

The head, the heart, and Clive Derby-Lewis

On Monday Justice Minister Michael Masutha announced that he had received a recommendation that Clive Derby-Lewis be released on parole. If follows a long campaign by Derby-Lewis for his release. But the man who plotted the killing of Chris Hani is different. He was involved in something, made something happen, that crossed a massive, thick line. If he is released, it could test our “reconciliation” in several ways. But should he be? And is he different to other criminals?

I never know where to begin with Clive Derby-Lewis. He’s a man who’s popped up every now and then, with long periods of silence. He’s someone who is a blast from the past in the worst possible way. And yet another illustration that everywhere, the past is still very much with us.

I suppose the first time the concept of him flashed across my consciousness was in 1993, the Easter Saturday that saw Chris Hani’s life end. I was young, just in the last year of school. And a white teenage boy during those times, at a rugby festival. Someone I bumped into asked if I’d heard that Chris Hani had been killed. An ANC leader, I was told. I knew this was serious, but it took me quite a few years to work out how serious it really was.

The next few days passed fairly normally. Protected by my white middle-class status, the talk about it, if it all, was about whether school might be closed for a few days, because of the threat of violence. But I do remember, strongly, the tone and the look in the eyes of the SABC newsreader who announced a few days later that a right-winger called Clive Derby-Lewis had been arrested. It may have been Adrian Steed, and this is a long time ago, but I’m fairly certain he actually came on after the sports news in the main bulletin of the day to deliver the sombre facts.

Sometimes history is written in the eyes of a newsreader who is afraid of what they’re saying.

Then there was the funeral, and things seemed to ease, and finally, many months later, Sean Johnson, the biggest political journalist in the country at the time, came to speak at our valediction. He’d come straight from the actual negotiations, where it had been decided the night before, that our first elections would be held on 27 April, 1994. It was a moment that led pretty much directly to what I do for a living now. He told us everything was fine, and how we had a great future in South Africa, and to please stay. Of course, he was right.

There is no doubt that what Derby-Lewis and Janusz Walu? did was right up there with the worst of the worst of the Apartheid crimes. They didn’t kill as many people as, say, Eugene de Kok; they didn’t order the deaths of women and children in Botswana, or blow up a priest with a letter bomb.

What they did was quite deliberately try to start a race war. To set black against white, and white against black.

If was an act surely designed to make us less than one country, to light something that would have ended in us drowning in blood.

As a South African, I can’t forgive him for that. I feel angry just thinking about it. I am completely with Limpho Hani on this.

If Derby-Lewis and Walus had succeeded, so many of the people I know and love would be dead. And all because of race.

The stupidity of it, the hatred of it, the sheer awfulness of it is off the scale.

They say that to understand is to forgive. This is like the Nazis. I can’t understand. And I don’t think that we can really forgive.

It’s funny. Eugene de Kok I can actually understand more. Anyone who’s read the book or seen the play of A Human Being Died That Night may agree. It shows how indoctrination, the idea of service in a military-style organisation, all of those things, play a part in the make-up of a human being. And of how being brutalised to the point of committing murder in that situation does indeed kill someone’s humanity.

However, that lack of understanding doesn’t really play a role in a country that is ruled by laws.

The law as it currently stands says Derby-Lewis must be considered for parole, and presumably there is also a legal mechanism for a judicial review, if that decision doesn’t go his way.

Law doesn’t really look at motive. We had that option; it was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it did make a finding on Derby-Lewis. It said that because he wasn’t part of any political formation, he simply didn’t qualify for amnesty. Which means that he can’t make any kind of argument around motive in this case.

As a result, this is just murder. And murder, to an extent, is murder. Chris Hani was, is, a legend. A key figure in our liberation, a person whose death took us right to the edge. But the law won’t allow us to place one life above other lives. That’s the way it works. It’s right there in bold print at the top of the Constitution. All are equal before the law.

This means that at some point, this could all come before a judge. And that person is going to have to make a decision based on the law. Presumably, considering more than twenty years has passed, Derby-Lewis is going to have a strong case.

One of the arguments that could be brought to stop his release would be that it would not be of benefit to the greater society. That certain passions would be unleashed. I suppose that’s true. But I don’t see the SACP and others going looking for him. I don’t think that will actually happen. Barend Strydom, who killed seven black people quite deliberately, was released in 1992, he’s appeared in public several times since then, and hasn’t, it seems, been attacked in any kind of way. Wouter Basson is practicing quite successfully as a doctor in the Western Cape, and certainly hasn’t been attacked in the street, despite his picture being quite easily accessible.

There is no final analysis here. My head and my heart are not going to reconcile. Sometimes we just have to live with that. DM


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