Two policemen, one of whom said he believed he had been acting against African National Congress members, were yesterday found guilty of two counts of murder and one of attempted murder in the Rand Supreme Court. Passing judgement before a packed court, Mr Justice Irving Steyn found Sergeant Robert van der Merwe and Captain Jack La Grange guilty of the murders of Bernie Ogle and Peter Godfrey Pillay, and of the attempted murder of Ernest Malakoane. Sentence is due to be passed today.
Judge Steyn said La Grange's claim that he had nothing to do with the shootings was not just doubtful but completely false. La Grange, commanding officer of the East Rand Murder and Robbery Squad had told the court Van der Merwe was nicknamed "Wonder Wereld" as he seemed to be living in a world of fantasy, with himself (La Grange) as a central figure. Throughout the three-and-a-half week trial, La Grange said he had not been involved in any of the three shootings.
Van der Merwe, a member of the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad, had admitted to shooting Malakoane and the deceased. All that remained in doubt, Judge Steyn said, were his reasons for doing it. Earlier Van der Merwe told the court La Grange had said Ogle, Pillay and Malakoane were drug dealers, arms smugglers and involved with the ANC. His feelings towards the ANC, he said, were of "pure hatred". He had been inside the Johannesburg Magistrates' Court last year when a bomb went off outside.
Van der Merwe, who said until he appeared in court he had been expecting to be a state witness, said he knew his actions were "illegal according to the law", but believed he was acting correctly and "in landsbelang" (in the national interest). Van der Merwe said he had acted on orders from La Grange, but believed they were coining from higher up.
He said that on the night of September 28 when he and La Grange met before proceeding to the houses of Ogle and, later, Malakoane, La Grange had said the "order from head office was that two drug dealers with ANC connections and smuggling arms had to be eliminated". He said La Grange had told him the order to kill Pillay had come from a senior policeman, Brigadier Basie Smit. – John Perlman
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.