‘Whatever his motivation, don’t forget that Coetzee spoke up’

2013-03-08 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Whatever his motivation in exposing Vlakplaas, people must not forget that Dirk Coetzee spoke up.

That was the reaction of journalist Max du Preez, former editor of the Vrye Weekblad, to news yesterday of Coetzee’s death at 67.

The former security policeman and commander of the death squad based at Vlakplaas died on Wednesday afternoon in a Pretoria hospital.

His brother-in-law, Chris Krause, said yesterday Coetzee died of organ failure. His kidneys stopped working completely. He was on dialysis and had contracted double pneumonia.

He suffered a lot, Krause said.

“He was like a father to me, because I lost my father very young. I loved him very much and we will miss him,” he said.

In 1989, Coetzee caused one of the biggerst shocks to apartheid with his revelations that he had been involved since 1981 in death squads that murdered anti-apartheid activists.

Sometimes their bodies were burned while Coetzee and his men braaied and drank close by.

The revelations, published in the Vrye Weekblad, were an enormous shock to those who believed that the apartheid regime operated within the law and the bounds of decency.

“Dirk ultimately did the right thing when it was necessary,” said Du Preez. “Otherwise more people would have been killed.

“I don’t think it was because he suddenly supported democracy. He was angry because the police had apparently treated him badly. But he talked while others stayed silent in similar circumstances.”

After his revelations, Coetzee joined the ANC and survived an attempted letter bombing by the security police. However, he and the ANC later parted ways.

In 1997, Coetzee was granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for 22 crimes, including the murder of Durban lawyer and activist Griffiths Mxenge, and for his part in human rights abuses.

Coetzee is survived by his wife, Karin, and two sons, Dirk and Calla.

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