Today, South Africa announced the parole decisions for three apartheid-era political assassins: Clive Derby-Lewis, Eugene de Kock and Ferdi Barnard. Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masuta announced that de Kock would be released. Despite the medical board‘s recommendation, the state denied Derby-Lewis (the man behind Chris Hani‘s murder) parole. The decision on Ferdi Bernard has been reserved. These decisions open old wounds and debate about more than just the fate of these assassins.
A sampling of responses:
The decisions are heated, certainly because of the brutality of men in question. De Kock is a veteran of the Rhodesian war and the Koevoet Police Counter-Insurgency Unit in Namibia. He took over as Dirk Coetzee’s successor at Vlakplaas. Among De Kock’s crimes against humanity, he orchestrated the bombing of COSATU and Khotso Houses and the murder of the Cradock Four.
Conservative Party MP Derby-Lewis, now 78 and stricken with lung cancer, conspired with Janusz Walus to murder Hani and provided the weapon. Hani was, and remains, a revered figure in South Africa for his principles and leadership in the SACP and MK.
Ferdi Bernard hired a hitman to assassinate Anton Lubowski in Windhoek in 1989 and assassinated anti-apartheid activist David Webster in 1989. He attempted to murder Dullah Omar. Jacques Pauw described him as “one of apartheid’s most infamous hoodlums, a Rambo-esque killer who moved between the criminal underworld of drug dealing, prostitution, and diamond smuggling, and South Africa’s official business in the government’s dirty tricks units and deaths squads.”
But this debate is about more than individuals and their crimes. As T.O. Molefe pointed out six months ago, the “debate is especially frenzied because the racial hierarchy these men were defending when they committed their barbarous acts is still largely intact, even if the lives of many black people have improved since 1994.” Masuta alleges de Kock’s release is “in the interests of nation-building and reconciliation.” Tutu hopes it will contribute to such.
But can reconciliation be achieved when little has changed? Few high-ranking apartheid officials participated in the TRC and even fewer were tried in court. In his TRC testimonies and interviews with Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a TRC commissioner, De Kock declared himself the scapegoat for the apartheid officials who previously sought him out as a counterinsurgency strategist. Ronald Suresh Roberts points out that South African business beneficiaries have not been held accountable either.
The release of de Kock is about more than just his immediate victims. It’s also about every South African who experienced apartheid as well as those who continue to live with the legacies of apartheid.
Short read: BBC profile on de Kock
Long read: Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night
Long read: Jacques Pauw’s Into the Heart of Darkness on Bernard, de Kock and others
Research: Amnesty applications of de Kock, Derby-Lewis and others are available online.
Listen: de Kock’s friend Professor Piet Croucamp spoke with the SABC about de Kock’s belief that F.W. de Klerk belonged in jail. (He’s right. Jabulani Sithole’s research puts de Klerk, who has always maintained his “clean hands,” at a meeting that approved the fostering of political violence.) The interview has perfect timing, as Cape Town plans to rename Table Bay Boulevard after the last apartheid president.
Watch: SABC’s “Truth Commission: Special Report Episode 61” on the amnesty application of Hani’s assassin, Janusz Walus, and the assassination’s mastermind, Clive Derby Lewis.
Watch: Documentary on Eugene de Kock, Prime Evil