/ 17 November 1989

Death squad chief flees SA

Ex-captain Johannes Dirk Coetzee, the man named in the "Nofomela affidavits" as the field commander in a secret security police death squad, has fled the country. Before leaving this week, Coetzee told his story to Afrikaans newspaper Vrye Weekblad. When it appears in the newspaper today, it is likely to cause a major diplomatic row and shake the police force.

Coetzee, who was recently named by another self-confessed hit squad member death row prisoner Butana Almond Nofomela said his unit was involved in the murder of Ruth First, a leading exiled intellectual and wife of African National Congress leader Joe Slovo, who was killed by a parcel bomb in Maputo in 1982. He also gave information on a bomb attack on ANC offices in London, saying the explosives were smuggled into Britain in South Africa's diplomatic pouch. He told of several bomb attacks on other ANC leaders and assassination attempts on ANC military leader Chris Hani and exiled former political prisoner Marius Schoon.

He admitted that he helped plant the bomb that killed ANC activist Patrick Makau in Swaziland in 1980 and told of how bottles of whiskey were injected with poison prepared by the police forensic department and sent to Maputo to be given to ANC members. "I was in the heart of the whore. I was the commander of the SAP's death squad. "My men and I had to murder political and security opponents of the police and the government. I know all the secrets of this unit which is above the law. I myself am guilty or at least an accomplice to several murders." he told Vrye Weekblad.

He also admitted – as Nofomela had charged – involvement in the murder of Durban human rights lawyer Griffiths Mxenge in November 1981. Coetzee said he received orders to kill Mxenge, and then told his men:  "Get rid of Mxenge, but make it look like a robbery." This is almost identical to the account given by Nofomela who claims to have been one of those who carried out Coetzee's order. "In accordance with our instructions from Captain Coetzee, we removed Mxenge's items of value, like money and a watch in order to simulate a robbery," Nofomela said in his affidavit.

Coetzee's flight comes two weeks after the unexpected retirement of another officer named to the affidavit as heading the special branch's secret "anti-terrorist unit", Brigadier WFS Schoon. Coetzee himself retired from the force in 1985 because of diabetes and at the time of his flight was working for a construction firm in Pretoria. He left the country saying he would seek work as a deep-sea diver on an oil rig. Meanwhile, fears are growing that the two man official investigation into the "Nofomela affidavits" is turning into little more than a cover-up.

According to police sources the two-man team of state officials investigating Nofomela's allegations are expected to find the affidavit unreliable as evidence when it submits its report before the end of this month. This will allow the state to hang Nofomela almost immediately, silencing the man who first spoke out about the death squads. The investigating team consisting of Free State Attorney General PT McNally and Pretoria CID head Brigadier Conradie will have arrived at their conclusions without contacting a number of people holding important and well- publicised evidence in the case. Nor have they attempted to obtain copies of a second Nofomela affidavit taken by Lawyers for Human Rights which contains further hit squad allegations.

McNalIy last week refused to disclose details of the investigation, saying it would be tantamount to "holding the investigation in public". Yesterday he said "the investigation is making good progress". McNally would not say whether the findings of his investigation would be made public. That, he said, would be decided at a later date. Conradie was not available for comment.

However, Weekly Mail can reveal that the investigators have made no attempt to contact the family of Mxenge, the human rights lawyer who Nofomela claims was one of the hit squads victims, the family attorneys, Lawyers for Human Rights or the South African Council of Churches team investigating assassinations. Much of the key evidence and information confirming the substance of Nofomela's allegations is being held by these individuals and organisations.

Two weeks ago Lawyers for Human Rights submitted a package to the investigating team. Included were false passports which Nofomela alleges were used in cross border assassinations; photographs, allegedly of targets for assassination; and bullets for a 9mm Makarov pistol which Nofomela claims to have used in various hits while he was a member of the alleged security police death squad. The investigating team did not respond when LHR last week called for an urgent meeting to discuss this evidence and the new material in the second affidavit taken by the human rights organisation. It is known McNally and Conradie spent some hours with Nofomela, who is on death row, and that an interview has been held with Brigadier Schoon. But beyond those, few known leads appear to have been followed up.

The senior remaining partner in the Mxenge's firm, Bheka Shezi, said he has written to the investigators asking to be kept informed about the progress of the investigation. He has had no reply. Fumbatha Mxenge, brother of the murdered attorney, said the family had heard nothing from the team. "This creates the impression, to put it-mildly, that they are not doing their work as thoroughly as we would like," he said.

*The South African Police have objected strongly to a Weekly Mail report that Brigadier Schoon had retired as head of the security police anti-terrorist unit the same day that Nofomela claimed to be part of this unit. Describing the report as "blatantly misleading", the SAP said "if notices regarding a farewell party (for Schoon) were posted on the same day the allegations were made, this is purely coincidental. "Brigadier Schoon could indeed have retired some years ago but chose to stay on in the force. On July 1989 31, he gave written notice of his intention to retire at the end of October 1989. "The retirement was not 'sudden' as alleged and to further state that the resignation was a 'surprise', after three month's notice, is nothing short of ludicrous."

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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