Max du Preez

The price of reconcilliation

2007-07-04 08:24

Max du Preez

The sooner former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok stands before a judge in a criminal court next to his former commissioner of police, Johan van der Merwe, the better. I can only hope Magnus Malan will also soon be called Accused Number One.

So what about "reconciliation"? What about letting go of the past and embracing the future?

Sure, I'm all for reconciliation and for black and white taking hands and walking into the future happily singing Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika with Die Stem as second verse, but not if the price is too high.

Yes, I think the price of "reconciliation", if that applies in this case, would be too high. Criminally charging Vlok and Van der Merwe with the attempted murder by poisoning of Frank Chikane is not an "assault on white people" or an act of revenge. This is unfinished business.

They had an easy choice eleven years ago to apply for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All they needed to do was prove that they had a political motive and tell the whole story, as they indeed did with the blowing up of Khotso House and then blaming it on the ANC. They got amnesty for that.

Turning their noses at the TRC

But they preferred to cock a snook at the TRC regarding Chikane and other cases. They preferred to lie. During interviews with me during that time, both men vehemently denied that they ever ordered, sanctioned or condoned torture or murder. (A direct quote from Van der Merwe: "I am not aware of one murder when I was commissioner, or even before.")

Many of their policemen, the men who had to do their dirty work and pull the trigger or pull the suffocating bag over the victim's head, told the TRC their orders came from above. Prime Evil himself, former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, repeatedly implicated both his minister and commissioner directly in evidence under oath.

De Kock and several other former security policemen testified how they received ministerial congratulations and even medals for killing anti-apartheid activists in South Africa and neighbouring states.

Vlok, Malan and their generals sat back with fat smiles and a whiskey in the hand while their foot soldiers had to confess and grovel before the TRC and the nation. The rigorous and often humiliating amnesty process was deeply painful and traumatic to most of these men.

They thought they were brave and patriotic and serving the government of the day, but now they were alone in carrying the can. It is unforgivable. They were betrayed by the politicians and generals of the last apartheid government.

Talking of "reconciliation": hundreds of these former policemen will experience Vlok and Van der Merwe court appearance as justice and closure; thus also their own reconciliation with the past.

Best foot forward

I thought it was a significant and meaningful act when Vlok went to wash Chikane's feet. But such an act of humility and contrition without a full disclosure of the multitude of gross human rights violations that happened during his reign as police minister is simply not enough.

His feet-washing was a private act as a Christian, but the nation needs his response as the former political leader of the policemen who kidnapped, tortured and killed so many people simply because they opposed apartheid.

If Vlok really wanted to come clean, he would have helped to solve dozens of unresolved murders of government opponents. Many mothers, wives and children are still desperate for information about how their sons, husbands and fathers died and to get the remains back for a proper burial and closure.

General Van der Merwe, under whose watch most of these acts were committed during the turbulent 1980s, has at no point shown any remorse, at least not publicly.

Malan deserves to be called to justice because he was minister of Defence during the 1980s when units and men under his command, like the Civil Cooperation Bureau, the Directorate Covert Collection and Special Forces, assassinated activists, among them Swapo's Anton Lubowski and Mamelodi doctor Fabian Ribeiro and his wife, killed innocent civilians during raids in neighbouring states and took part in the mass slaughters in KwaZulu/Natal and on the trains of the East Rand in the early 1990s.

The deal we made

Have we forgotten the unspeakable horrors revealed to the Truth Commission by victims as well as amnesty seekers between 1996 and 1998? If the argument is that this was "war" and thus legitimate, then there would surely be no problem in getting amnesty for it.

The deal we made, which was part of the peaceful transition to democracy in 1994, was that those who killed and maimed in the name of politics would get amnesty, but those who didn't own up would be prosecuted.

How can it be acceptable for us to simply forget about those who bargained that justice would never catch up to them and ignored the TRC? How is that fair to the many who did apply for amnesty?

The only pity is that our judicial system is so useless that these kinds of cases are only now being brought to court, instead of seven, eight years ago. Still, taking men like Vlok, Van der Merwe and Malan to court can only strengthen our national sense of morality and accountability.

Send your comments to Max.

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