Obituary: Clive Derby-Lewis

2016-11-03 15:05
Clive Derby-Lewis (File, Craig Nieuwenhuizen, Netwerk24)

Clive Derby-Lewis (File, Craig Nieuwenhuizen, Netwerk24)

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Former Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis, who has died aged 80, was jailed for life for his part in the assassination of Chris Hani, the South African Communist Party general secretary and Umkhonto we Sizwe chief of staff.

Together with Janusz Walus, the Polish truck driver who had gunned down Hani outside his Boksburg home on April 10 1993, Derby-Lewis had conspired to plunge the country into a race war and scupper the reconciliation process ahead of the country’s first democratic elections with a series of assassinations.

A target list of senior African National Congress and SACP figures, including ANC president Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo, had been uncovered by investigators.

The assassins’ plan had almost worked. A dramatic televised speech by Mandela, in which he appealed to South Africans to use the murder to affirm hopes for a united, democratic future, did much to keep black rage in check.

To further appease anger, Mandela had also used the occasion to force FW de Klerk’s Nationalist government to agree on an election date. The speech, many observers noted, established Mandela as the de facto leader of the country.

At the time of the assassination, Derby-Lewis was president of the paranoid, London-based anti-communist think tank, Western Goals Institute. He had been elected to the position in February 1992 following the death, from cancer, of its previous president, Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, the Salvadorean right-wing death squad leader accused of the assassination in 1980 of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

Derby-Lewis’s political career was by then all but over.

He was a founder member of Dr Andries Treurnicht’s Conservative Party when it broke from the Nationalist Party in 1982 due to a perceived softening of apartheid policies.

Following his unsuccessful election bid in the Krugersdorp constituency in 1987, Derby-Lewis was nominated as an MP to the House of Assembly and served on a number of parliamentary committees and represented the CP on standing committees dealing with the provincial affairs of what was then Natal, as well as trade and commerce.

His real political role though was to lure English-speaking South Africans into the ranks of the far right. He initially appeared well-suited for the part. Clive and Gaye Derby-Lewis seemed to be drawn from Tory Home Counties central casting.

With his cravats, silly moustache and forced upper class accent, he resembled a caricature of a retired and somewhat caddish Royal Air Force officer, while she appeared, as one commentator observed, “the no-nonsense, horsey type: flat sensible shoes, navy sweaters, practical polka-dot frocks.”

In practice, though, Derby-Lewis was too rabid a racist, even by South African standards, and proved to be an embarrassment to the CP – and repellent to most white voters.

His attitude towards blacks was appalling. “My experience,” he once declared, “was that few of them could repair a toilet.”

Another time, he stated, “There are cultural differences between blacks and whites and it is a fact that blacks like to make babies.”

He also told parliament “If Aids stops black population growth it will be like Father Christmas.”

Such utterances were legion, and in March 1988, the Progressive Federal Party MP Harry Schwarz described Derby-Lewis as the “biggest racist in Parliament”.

Clive John Derby-Lewis was born in Cape Town on January 22 1936 and raised a devout Catholic in Kimberley where he attended the then-Christian Brothers’ College.

A chartered accountant by profession, he left the Catholic Church in the early 1980s to join the whites-only, apartheid-supporting Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk.

He spent 19 years as a volunteer in the South African Citizen Force and became the youngest ever commanding officer of the Witwatersrand Rifles Regiment and was awarded the John Chard Medal for long and meritorious service.

He entered politics as an NP town councillor for Bedfordview, where he was mayor from 1974 to 1975. He also served as the member for Edenvale on the old Transvaal Provincial Council from 1972 to 1981.

Not much is known about Derby-Lewis’s first marriage, but he was divorced when, shortly after leaving the NP, he met his second wife, Gaye.

Born into a devoutly Roman Catholic family in Australia, she became a nun in her 20s but eventually rebelled and left for South Africa where she married an intelligence officer, Anton Graser.

About the time that she joined the CP in 1982 she started running Truckers, a Johannesburg gay bar. Gaye divorced her husband and married Clive in 1986. Soon afterwards she began working for Die Patriot, the Conservative Party mouthpiece.

Bitingly arch and known for her withering and caustic put-downs, it came as no surprise to those that knew the couple that she, the more intelligent of the two, was arrested ahead of her husband for Hani’s murder.

In a letter written some months before the killing in which she’d complained of her husband’s spinelessness, she’d lamented, “I cannot see much hope with the [right-wing] leadership at the moment. Things may change, however, so all is not lost.”

She was eventually acquitted of all charges. But both Walus and Derby-Lewis, who had supplied the pistol for the assassination, were sentenced to death for their actions. Their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment following the abolishment of capital punishment.

In a bid for amnesty, Derby-Lewis told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in December 1997 that the assassination had been sanctioned by senior CP leaders.

He also claimed he had been acting “in defence of my people, who were threatened with a Communist take-over”, adding that his faith had been central to his actions: “As a Christian, my first duty is to the Almighty God before everything else. We were fighting against communism, and communism is the vehicle of the Antichrist.”

The TRC rejected his application in April 1999. A 2000 high court bid to overturn the TRC’s decision was also rejected.

In June 2010 Derby-Lewis unsuccessfully applied for parole on the grounds that he was over 70 and entitled to parole as he’d spent more than 15 years in prison. Later that year it was reported that he was receiving treatment for skin cancer and prostate cancer, hypertension, and for a gangrenous spot in his leg. He was denied medical parole in 2011, 2013 and again in January 2015.

Finally, in May 2015, North Gauteng High Court Judge Selby Baqwa ruled that he be released on medical parole and he went home, reportedly with terminal lung cancer.

Derby-Lewis is survived by his wife, Gaye, and three children from his first marriage.

Read more on:    clive derby-lewis  |  obituary

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