The last public court case that Eugene de Kock was involved in confirms that he should not receive a presidential pardon.
On November 21 2007 De Kock succeeded in obtaining, on an ex parte basis, an urgent interim interdict from Judge Willie Hartzenberg in the Pretoria High Court. If made final, it would have had the effect of banning my book, White Power and the Rise and Fall of the National Party.
De Kock complained that a quotation from Leon Wessels, former deputy minister of law and order, in which he said ‘(a)nother example would be Eugene de Kock, braaiing meat and drinking for hours next to a corpse they had set on fire …”, was defamatory.
The interim interdict was set aside just over two weeks later, with Judge Willie Seriti accepting the arguments that my legal advisers, Webber Wentzel, put forward. These were, among others, that the essence of the statement in the book about De Kock was correct and that, in claiming that he was being defamed, De Kock should have disclosed to the court all material facts pertaining to his reputation. If he had done so, it would have shown that the statement does not damage his ‘reputation”.
The quotation reflected the findings of Judge Willem van der Merwe, who had sentenced De Kock to 212 years and two life sentences, that he was a cold-blooded, calculating, multiple murderer who tortured and killed his victims callously, including innocent people, and sometimes without instruction from his superiors. In explaining why he had not provided the court with these facts, his counsel told Judge Seriti that ‘everyone” knows who Eugene de Kock is.
The court rejected this argument.
So what, then, did he say in his eight-page affidavit to justify the infringement of the basic principle of freedom of speech?
His portrayal of himself in the affidavit provides food for thought in the current debate about his possible release. De Kock argued that the order was not just necessary, but ‘extremely urgent” to prevent what he called ‘sensationalist lies” from further damaging his ‘honour, dignity, good name and reputation”.
Because of the quotation’s ‘repulsive and humiliating insinuation”, he faced ‘incalculable damage and detriment” to his ‘good” name. He doubted that any amount of money could compensate for the ‘irreparable damage”.
This is white power at work: a white man who committed multiple murders in the name of white supremacy launching court applications from jail to block books about the very system for which he mercilessly killed.
It can be no coincidence that the particular book is a personal and political attempt by another Afrikaner to confront the horrors of apartheid for which white people are culpable but in which De Kock played a particularly pernicious role.
His actions demonstrate his failure to embrace the values of our democratic Constitution, including freedom of speech. One can only surmise that the ‘incalculable damage” that De Kock was worried about was that the book served as an untimely reminder of his crimes amid his endeavours to rehabilitate his image in the public eye.
He has been pursuing a presidential pardon for several years. According to journalist Jacques Pauw, De Kock has been meeting families of his victims, ‘hugging mourning mothers” as part of his campaign to secure his release.
Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s admirable book, A Human Being Died That Night, has unintentionally aided him in his quest. One cannot find fault with the central thesis of the book that apartheid also dehumanised those who perpetrated its crimes. But that should not be the only criterion when our society decides whether to forgive De Kock by releasing him. Remorse should be a prerequisite. But De Kock became repentant only after he was found guilty in 1996 of 82 criminal counts and received lengthy sentences.
- Read Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela commentary, published alongside this piece, on why De Kock should be released.
The other criteria are disclosure and political motive. De Kock applied for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), including for a murder where, according to evidence led before the amnesty committee, the operatives drank and braaied before shooting an askari and detonating his remains.
The TRC’s amnesty committee denied him amnesty for some of his killings as they were found to have been ‘grossly disproportionate” and committed without a political objective. Overturning the amnesty process, with its set of basic conditions, flies in the face of justice.
Some point out that he is the only apartheid operative serving time, a mere foot soldier for white supremacy sacrificed by the leadership of the National Party. In that case, releasing him is not the answer; prosecuting the rest of the similarly implacable apartheid perpetrators is.
Christi van der Westhuizen is an author and a journalist.