The police version of the Boipatong massacre is beginning to unravel, write Mail & Guardian reporters
Former Vaal policeman Sergeant Gerhardus “Pedro” Peens has admitted that he was in the Vaal Triangle township of Boipatong on the fateful night of June 17 1992 when 46 people - including women, children and a four- month-old baby - were brutally massacred.
The admission - although linked to a continued denial of involvement in the massacre, and a curious denial that he knew the bloodbath was taking place - represents the first crack in seven years of police denials that any of their members were present during the Boipatong massacre.
Peens told writer Rian Malan in October 1998 that he was in Boipatong investigating other cases that night, but insisted that he had nothing to do with the massacre.
Peens has been subpoenaed to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s amnesty committee this week. His statement to Malan is now in the committee’s hands.
He told Malan that as his Casspir entered Boipatong between 3am and 4am on the morning of the attack, he encountered “a hellavu crowd, 200 or 300 standing in the road”. Peens said one of the men was apparently armed with an AK-47, but further investigation revealed that his weapon was in fact a panga.
“They started throwing stones at us. I said, `Boys, let’s get out of here.’ I went to the top, through the robots at KwaMadala [hostel] and then right towards Sebokeng. We carried on with the operations in Sebokeng. It was only at around nine in the morning that the first reports came through on the radio [of the massacre].
“The crowd was locals, not Zulus ... I was at that stage the only police vehicle in Boipatong. A Casspir. I was driving. I didn’t see any other police. I was in permanent contact with radio control,” said Peens.
Peens’s admission provides the first police confirmation of reports that a police Casspir was in the township at the time. It comes hot on the heels of the startling about-face by Boipatong Inkatha Freedom Party convict Andries Nosenga, who this week told the amnesty committee that police - including Peens - were involved in the massacre.
Nosenga also told the committee that IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi thanked the attackers during a subsequent rally in Ulundi.
Buthelezi has now threatened to sue the truth commission.
Malan approached Peens last October after obtaining a copy of Nosenga’s statement to the amnesty committee. Peens told Malan that he knew Nosenga because he had arrested him in connection with an earlier case. Nosenga was allegedly a member of notorious “Vaal Monster” Victor Kheshwa’s gang, which was based in KwaMadala hostel in the early 1990s.
Both Kheshwa and his second-in-command, Dan Mobote, subsequently died under mysterious circumstances while in Peens’s custody.
Nosenga’s testimony this week represented the first crack in the story presented by the 17 IFP supporters convicted for the massacre. While his 16 co-convicts have continued to deny that the massacre was organised by the IFP or the police, Nosenga has implicated Themba Khoza, then the IFP Youth Brigade’s PWV leader, and Peens in both the planning and the execution of the attack.
Nosenga claimed that at meetings at KwaMadala hostel in advance of the massacre Peens agreed to “supply Casspirs near the location” and that Peens and another policeman undertook to supply weapons to Khoza, via a third policeman identified as “Rooikop”. (The names of these policemen are known to the Mail & Guardian.) Nosenga says that on the night of the massacre he travelled in the same police Casspir as Peens and confirms that “Peens also shot people”.
Peens, however, rejects the allegations against him as “absurd” and says he was there investigating the death of “Skuta” Maruma, a policeman killed and dismembered in Sharpeville two weeks earlier, on May 30.
Even if this were true, it still begs a number of questions. According to police testimony about the Boipatong incident, all police Casspirs were accounted for - and none was deployed in Boipatong at the time of the massacre.
Peens also fails to explain adequately why he failed to react, in his capacity as a policeman, to the violence sweeping through the township. He says he took a couple of statements after the attack and then pulled out of the township. “I decided this is a lot of crap,” he said.
Peens also fails to explain why he did not admit to being present in Boipatong to the various inquiries that have examined the massacre over the past seven years, except to describe the Goldstone commission’s inquiry as “pathetic”.
Meanwhile, three amnesty applications in the possession of the truth commission confirm a wider conspiracy between the police and the IFP. (As far as the M&G is able to determine, these are the only three police applications from the Vaal.)
These relate to an earlier incident, an IFP attack on the largely ANC- supporting Sebokeng hostel on September 3 and 4 1990. Forty-three people died in the incident, in which the police acted to defend the IFP impis against crowds of residents moving to protect the Sebokeng hostel residents.
Following the attack Khoza was arrested at Sebokeng hostel after firearms, explosives and ammunition were seized by the police from his blue Nissan Sentra - according to former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, the car was a gift from the security police. Peens was apparently present at the arrest.
Khoza was acquitted at his trial as police contradicted each other in their evidence and the magistrate accepted Khoza’s version that the vehicle had been unlocked and thus the weaponry could have been planted.
But according to the amnesty applications of the former head of the Vaal Triangle security police, JF Conradie, and two other policemen - then-lieutenant Arthur van der Gryp (who still serves in the Vaal police force) and J Jacobs, the investigating officer - evidence was deliberately fabricated to secure the acquittal.
Conradie, who later became head of the police’s criminal investigation services, says he orchestrated the cover-up after he realised the “importance” of Khoza. This followed discussions with his seniors in the police force, in particular General Nic van Rensburg, who has applied for amnesty in connection with the deaths of Eastern Cape activists.
The details of the cover-up and the version presented in court were cooked up by the three applicants in consultation, apparently with wider collusion, since ballistic and forensic evidence appeared to have been tampered with.
Peens regaled Malan with tales of his visiting KwaMadala on the day of the arrest. He said he was inside Khoza’s Nissan Sentra picking up illegal weaponry.
Peens left the police after the 1994 elections and now works as a private investigator. In more than 20 years in the force, he was investigated on no fewer than 60 charges of illegal conduct, but never convicted.