Defend Truth


The critical behind-the-scenes role played by Idasa’s quiet peacemakers in securing democracy


Dr Wilmot James is a Professor of Practice and Strategic Advisor to the Pandemic Center at the School of Public Health at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; and an Honorary Professor of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

In the first of a series of articles reflecting on the role played by the Institute for a Democratic South Africa, Idasa, in securing democracy, the author reflects on the roles of Ivor Jenkins and Bea Roberts.

Sometime in early 1994 a special man by the name of Ivor Jenkins brought a witness before Judge Richard Goldstone who provided testimony that resulted in the conviction of Eugene de Kock, the leader of the notorious assassination, killer and destabilisation clandestine unit embedded in sections of the apartheid-era South African Police (SAP).

The timing of Jenkins’ actions also catalysed the termination — six weeks before South Africa’s first democratic elections — of the brutal efforts instigated by what became known as the Third Force that included massacres of people in KwaZulu-Natal villages, the purpose of which was to derail the transition from apartheid to democracy.

Ivor Jenkins ran the Pretoria Office of what was then called the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (Idasa). He was by background and temperament a priest. He reminded me of another extraordinary man by the name of HW van der Merwe, a Quaker who ran the Abe Bailey Institute for Inter-Racial Studies at the University of Cape Town.

HW single-handedly led a lifelong effort to facilitate, support and enable the reconciliation of South Africa’s people united in the effort to create a decent society out of the terribly unjust legacy of apartheid. Like HW, Jenkins was a determined behind-the-scenes enabler of justice having the unshakeable conviction that his mission in life was to undo apartheid’s evil.

Stopping the rot

Idasa’s Pretoria office had become home to a country-wide community policing initiative. Forward-thinking diplomats from Denmark met with high-ranking African National Congress (ANC) leaders about involving the police in the transition to democracy.

Jenkins earned the fascinating task of putting together workshops that brought the South African and black homeland (Bantustan) police as well as critically, the military wings of the ANC, Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), the Pan African Congress (PAC) and the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation (Azapo) together to discuss democratic era policing.

It was at one of the conferences that Jenkins earned the trust of forward-thinking police, in particular the person who later became the first democratic National Police Commissioner under Nelson Mandela, George Fivaz.

Two of Fivaz’s senior police officers approached Jenkins with the story that a secretary working in their office had a boyfriend who wanted to blow the whistle on Third Force activities. His name was Chappies Klopper, a member of De Kock’s murderous squad.

Fearing for his life — and with good reason — Klopper was willing to talk but only under conditions normally provided by robust witness protection programmes. Klopper had persuaded De Kock’s right-hand man, Willie Nortje, and another agent who had left the police called Brood van Heerden to also testify. Negotiations between the Danish (Peter Hansen and Peter Bruckner) and Dutch (Tom van Oorschot) embassies and Judge Goldstone resulted in shipping the men and their families to Denmark.

The person whose job it was to look after them was another committed South African and Idasa employee, the soft-spoken, savvy, and articulate Bea Roberts. She was a great fit for the job. Jenkins had tapped Roberts to lead the community policing project.

Unravelling apartheid policing

Jenkins, Roberts and the Idasa team then did a remarkable thing. They embarked on a process with other security-focused NGOs that eventually, post-elections, resulted in the transformation of the South African Police Force from a high-handed military-like autocratic entity with a notorious Stasi-like Security Branch defending white interests, into a police service regulated by a Constitution and a robust Bill of Rights to serve everyone.

Specifically, they helped to establish a model for establishing community policing forums at every police station in the country.

Protected by the Goldstone Commission, Bea Roberts travelled to Denmark and spent nine weeks starting in early April 1994 with the three men and their families. Her tasks were to accompany them on social expeditions, collect their per diems from the Danish Foreign Ministry, informally monitor their mental wellness, and report on any behaviour that may affect their ability to do what was expected of them.

Critically, she assisted the Goldstone Commission with documenting witness testimonies, especially those provided in Afrikaans. Roberts missed the joy of South Africa’s first democratic elections held on 27 April 1994.

Roberts tells of her time with Klopper, Nortje and Van Heerden, listening to and occasionally recording the harrowing accounts of working with De Kock. The testimony was given informally in chats and more formally to the Goldstone Commission’s advocates on tape. She typed up some of the material in Afrikaans.

She got to know the men, finding Nortje the most remorseful while Van Heerden in her view was less so. Their wives seemed as shocked by the revelations as she was. Klopper, Roberts observed, was very shrewd. He never said it, but she thought he knew that if he was first in line to testify he would be okay. He was fond of Van Heerden and Willie and persuaded them to come along. In her view, Klopper was driven by remorse, ambition and fear.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The secret ‘Pact of Forgetting’ and the suppression of post-TRC prosecutions

The testimony provided to the Goldstone Commission was central to Eugene de Kock’s arrest and trial. In our view, the 1994 election may not have proceeded without this intervention.

The big question of course is how high up did this monumental rot go? Police Generals Basie Smit and Krappies Engelbrecht definitely knew, they were unaccountable and got away with their crimes with impunity. Did former president FW de Klerk know? I did not get to know the former president very well and he is no longer with us. But I got to know him well enough to once ask him whether he knew about the crimes committed, and he said no.

Idasa’s role in catalysing post-apartheid democratic policing and helping the Goldstone Commission with testimony to convict Eugene de Kock is not widely known. This is because of the backroom nature of facilitation and Ivor Jenkins’ qualities of personality.

Jenkins was and is not a vainglorious man searching for the limelight or fame. He always mentored someone and shared what he had, passing on skill and understanding as a matter of routine to younger people.

He was a man of deep and almost boundless compassion. He and his wife Karin suffered extraordinary tragedies in their life, losing two beloved children to accidents from which most parents would never recover.

If there is a great man to honour for contributing to the end of apartheid and building a decent society, it is Ivor Jenkins. DM

Dr Wilmot James was the Executive Director of Idasa between August 1994 and December 1998.


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  • District Six says:

    Thank you, Dr Wilmot.
    This article was published yesterday, with not a single DA apologist in sight. No clever person full of critical thinking is here to comment. Stumm.
    I wonder why when a black politician, specifically black, we get the A-Z of adjectives denouncing them. Rightfully so.
    Yet, mention Markus Jooste. Silence.
    Mention De Kock’s murderous and depraved thugs stealing tax-payers money. Stumm.

    It’s so telling. I know that those same good folks are going to exclaim, “but I don’t mention race.” Sure.
    You don’t have to mention race. We see you.

    If people want to know why good black folks keep on voting for the ANC, it’s probably because of the same attitudes expressed by white folks here in the letters. The centempt for black people is obvious. Au contraire, black voters are NOT stupid or unsophisticated: we know exactly whom to vote for, and it’s definitely not Steenhuizen.

    The same domestic workers and gardeners who will tell you how bad Zuma is, will go out vote for him. Why? Because they see you!

    Then an article about the corrupt, thieving, murdering thugs from our past, and there’s no comment from any of the “critical thinkers”.
    No surprises there, hey. If you really want to know why blacks vote ANC, just read the comments in DM from white readers. It’s simple really.

    • John Stephens says:

      I understand why there are no apologists, DA or othewise in sight. There is no possibility of apologising for the murderous actions of the “Security Branch” and serial killers like De Kock and his enablers. You cannot apologise for it because you could not sustain the crime of apartheid without such morally corrupt, murderous scoundrels. And I understand why many black people would not want to vote for ther DA. They want to sweep all that history under the carpet, saying we were not all like that, it is past, so, let us smile and carry on as if nothing happened.
      But the DA is not the only other choice for people. The initial support for the ANC is understandable, but where I lose the sense of your argument completely is when you use that past to keep voting for a party that has consistently failed to deliver the to the people the benefits of freedom. They have over thirty years demonstrated their incompetence, their dishonesty, their incllination to self-enrichment and their total lack of real positive change for the poorest of the poor. Why keep on voting for them? Why vote for other parties who consist of the worst elements of the kleptocratic ANC, like MK? It is almost as if you believe self-flagelleation will at some time relieve the pain of the past.
      Don’t for the DA, by all means. But vote for reponsible, knowlegable and people who really have the well-being of all who live in South Africa at heart.

    • Colin Braude says:

      it’s no use slurring the DA; your Bellpottingering will not help. The DA had absolutely nothing to do with the death squads, in fact their forerunner, the Prog’s Helen Suzman was on the government’s case about its fascist policing and did what she could for the political prisoners, including Mandela and the Robben Islanders — read up some history.

      More relevant, while in 1994 “the transformation of the South African Police Force from a high-handed military-like autocratic entity … into a police service regulated by a Constitution and a robust Bill of Rights to serve everyone” seems to have been reversed by Minister ThugInAHat. Police brutality is rising while its crime prevention seems to be falling.

      Like FW de Klerk, one wonders how much President Ramaphosa is aware.

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