'Prime Evil' could be a free man

2015-01-29 16:31
Eugene de Kock (File)

Eugene de Kock (File)

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Cape Town – One of the apartheid regime's most notorious killers, former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, will find out on Friday whether he will get the parole he has been seeking.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Michael Masutha said he would announce his decision De Kock’s parole application - as well as the applications of imprisoned former apartheid-era Civil Co-Operation Bureau (CCB) agent Ferdi Barnard and former MP Clive Derby-Lewis.

The announcement will come the day after De Kock, who is serving two life sentences for six murders, plus 212 years for other crimes, turns 66.

Dubbed "Prime Evil" by the media, De Kock has spent over two decades behind bars, following his arrest in 1994 and his conviction two years later in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

In 1997/98, De Kock's testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on activities at the farm Vlakplaas shocked South Africans with its graphic, and previously largely unknown, details of the kidnapping, torture and murder of anti-apartheid activists.

But the former police colonel also won himself a round of spontaneous applause when he accused other members of the apartheid security establishment of not having "the backbone to stand up and take responsibility".

Vlakplaas, where De Kock took over in 1985 as head of the police's infamous C10 counter-insurgency unit, was located outside Pretoria. The unit was tasked with suppressing the anti-apartheid movement.

After the hearings, De Kock was granted amnesty for some of the crimes; for others it was denied, as their political motivation could not be fully proved.

De Kock was denied parole in July last year, despite being eligible after spending 20 years behind bars. Justice Minister Michael Masutha said at the time that although he had "made progress" towards rehabilitation, the families of his victims had not been properly consulted.

Masutha said he would take a final decision on the matter within a year.

Clive Derby-Lewis

Former MP Derby-Lewis is currently serving a life sentence for his role in the assassination SACP leader Chris Hani in April 1993, and has repeatedly been denied parole.

Masutha announcement followed earlier reports that the medical parole board has recommended that Derby-Lewis, who suffers from lung cancer, be released from custody.

Hani's murder sparked riots and fears for the transition to democracy ahead of the 1994 elections.

At the time, soon-to-be president Nelson Mandela called it "a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster" in a speech in which he appealed for calm.

As a politician, Derby-Lewis had been involved in the National Party and then become a founder member of the Conservative Party in 1982 and a member of Parliament for the party in 1987.

He was considered a right-wing extremist and British journalist John Carlin famously described him as having a reputation for being a "rabid racist".

Former opposition leader Harry Schwarz described him as "the biggest racist in Parliament".

Even the Conservative Party conceded that his reported comments cost them support, with senior official Andries Beyers commenting: "I think sometimes he became an embarrassment to us. He was very, very hard-line."

At the time of his arrest, Derby-Lewis was standing in a by-election in Krugersdorp.

Derby-Lewis was arrested for aiding and abetting Janusz Walus, a Polish immigrant, in the assassination, and having lent him the gun used to shoot Hani in the driveway of his home.

He was found guilty of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to death but this was commuted to a life sentence after South Africa abolished capital punishment.

His second wife, Gaye Derby-Lewis, was also arrested and charged.

She was acquitted after it was found that a list of names of senior ANC and SACP members, including Mandela, was not a hit list.

Ferdi Barnard

Former apartheid-era CCB agent Barnard, found guilty 17 years ago of the murder of anti-apartheid activist David Webster, will also find out on Friday whether he will get parole.

Webster, an anthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, was gunned down in 1989 outside his home in Troyeville, Johannesburg.

Almost a decade later, Barnard was convicted of the killing. He was also found guilty of the attempted murder of another activist, Dullah Omar, who went on to serve in both former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki's cabinets.

Barnard was given two life terms plus a further 63 years in jail, and is currently serving time in Pretoria's Kgosi Mampuru II Prison.

At the time of Webster's murder, Barnard was operating as an undercover agent for the notorious CCB, an organisation established by former defence minister Magnus Malan in 1986, and tasked with "infiltration and penetration of the enemy".

Malan told the TRC in 1997 that the killing of the government's political opponents, including Webster, had never formed part of the former SA Defence Force's policy, and that he had never authorised political assassinations.

However, the TRC found that the CCB, in the course of its operations, "perpetrated gross violations of human rights, including killings, against both South African and non-South African citizens".

In Barnard's 1998 trial, North Gauteng High Court Judge Johan Els found that he had confessed to Webster's murder to 11 State witnesses, without being forced to do so.

He described Barnard as a man who clearly "talked too much", saying it was highly unlikely that he would have made such confessions to the witnesses if they were not the truth.

In an article published in the Mail & Guardian newspaper later that year, journalist Jacques Pauw described how Barnard had confessed to him that he had killed Webster.

"I testified [in the trial] how Barnard had told me, in October 1996, that Webster 'flew through the air' after he had fired 16 coarse-grained shotgun pellets into his body.

"When Barnard confessed to me, he was intoxicated on the large amount of crack and cocaine he had consumed, but his speech was composed and sensible."

Read more on:    eugene de kock  |  michael masutha  |  clive derby-lewis  |  johannesburg  |  prisons

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