We, the better people, must free Derby-Lewis

2014-06-18 10:00

Last Monday, new Justice Minister Mike Masutha said it had been recommended that Clive Derby-Lewis be granted parole.

He didn’t say who made this recommendation, but what he did do was create a public perception that this was a recommendation he would take seriously and possibly act on, should the parole board agree with it.

I found out later that day the Hani family had also heard about this through the media, which is unforgivable.

Not so long ago, I reached the same conclusion Masutha seems to have reached: that the time has come to free the monster who almost caused a civil war in this beautiful country of ours.

A monster who was so hellbent on stopping the process of freedom for all by killing a man revered and respected by so many who were longing for true freedom from oppression.

Although forgiveness is a journey many of us have yet to embark on, the need for vengeance that I have carried for all these years has subsided.

My logic is simple: if the likes of Pik Botha, who was responsible for so many deaths and so much horror, can roam freely, surely we should have the hearts to let a sick old man go, allow him to die in dignity and show the world once again that we are the better people.

In the past, I wished he could be dealt with in the most extreme way, like they do where irrational sharia laws are practised – death by public stoning or the like.

I have wished the most terrible punishments on him, the worst death possible, as public as possible. In a way, his time in prison has done all that I wished upon his miserable life, although in some ways not enough.

This year marked 21 years since the cruel slaying of Chris Hani. Those who killed him didn’t give a second thought to the pain they were inflicting or the damage they were causing.

Those who ordered the killing through Derby-Lewis and Janusz Walus have yet to come forward and admit to their cowardly and hateful deed. Derby-Lewis has yet to come clean, and probably never will. Many feel their freedom should hinge on this information being made public.

Let me be honest and say that I’m not an objective observer. This is very personal to me. Although there are no blood links, the Hani family has been my family from the time I was an infant. I was raised with Hani’s daughters, who are like sisters to me. He and his widow, Limpho, had a hand in my upbringing.

In exile, the struggle had a way of extending our families as we found ourselves bonding owing to shared hardships. The loss of Hani was my loss, and Hani’s death was very painful to experience from so far away.

I remember April 10 1993 like it was yesterday: a young girl going about her business shopping in The Hague in the Netherlands, searching for my latest music craze, probably Mary J Blige or Michael Jackson. In an unguarded moment I was confronted with silent yet screaming CNN International headlines in a record store.

I thought it was a joke. I ran to the shop next door that sold TVs and asked them to turn up the volume. To this day, I don’t remember how I managed to get back home.

Derby-Lewis, who was sentenced to 25 years behind bars, has already served more than 20 of those years. The 78-year-old former Conservative Party MP has twice been denied medical parole following reports of serious illness. He has reportedly been stabbed on two different occasions by inmates at the Kgosi Mampuru Central Correctional Centre in Pretoria.

My reasons for encouraging his release now have nothing to do with forgiveness. To prevent him from becoming a martyr to right-wing lunatics who have little appreciation for the conciliatory olive branch extended to the minority population by the ANC government.

But I wonder if this heartless monster will appreciate the gift of freedom and the gift of life. I wonder if he will spare a thought for the women who were teenagers when he killed their father.

As he hugs his grandchildren, if he has any, will he wonder about Hani’s grandchildren and how they have turned out? Will he try to contact Mrs Hani and beg for her forgiveness once he is breathing the same air of freedom we breathe?

I hope so. I hope South Africa shows him the mercy he didn’t show our hero. We were better people then; we are better people now.

Sexwale is a media and communications strategist with an interest in post-apartheid experiences

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