In an extraordinary echo of events described in the just-released book The Lost Boys of Bird Island, co-author Mark Minnie was found dead on Monday.
Minnie’s death is apparently by suicide, but the book details two alleged suicides in the course of an investigation the former policeman conducted into paedophilia among highly placed politicians in the late 1980s — suicides that, in the analysis of the book, begin to look much like assassinations set up to look like suicides.
There were reports after his death that a suicide note had been found and that the gun retrieved from the scene at a smallholding on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth was not Minnie’s. News24 reported that it belonged to his friend and former police colleague Brent Barnes.
Family members said Minnie had told them days before he died that if anything happened to him they must know he was killed, according to an SABC news report.
Tersia Dodo, a relative of Minnie’s, said: “He mentioned to us all the time that his life was in danger and if anything did happen to him we must know that it was done to him, not by himself. Mark was not a coward. Mark faced life head on.”
The family also said they believed the suicide note was not written by Minnie — or that he wrote it under duress. Before his death, Minnie was approached by many people with more damning evidence, which he planned to reveal in a follow-up book.
Minnie’s co-author, Chris Steyn, told News24 that they had received threatening phone calls in the weeks before his death.
Publishers Tafelberg said Minnie was following up new leads in the story of alleged abuse of boys on Bird Island that he and Steyn told in the book. “He was excited about the publication of the book and the disclosure of allegations, which, according to him, had been covered up for 30 years,” said a representative of Tafelberg. “He said that the book was ‘only the beginning’.”
An inquest will take place.
Minnie was the policeman who uncovered evidence that Cabinet ministers in the National Party government were involved in the sexual abuse of boys.
The boys were taken to Bird Island, near Port Elizabeth, to spend time with Cabinet ministers who, according to information in the book, were flown to the island by military helicopter.
The book tells how the case was ultimately shut down by intervention from high up in the PW Botha government.
Minnie had worked for the past 20 years as a teacher in the Far East. He returned to South Africa for the launch of the book, and Steyn is reported to have said they had new evidence that had emerged.
As Minnie tells the story — which he believed he was unable to let go of despite having left the police force — he had followed up the case of one of the youths, who was secretly admitted to hospital and treated after being shot in the anus while at Bird Island. This led Minnie to one of the people involved, and two apparent suicides followed soon after. The abuse victims were untraceable, and it would have been hard for Minnie to make a case even if the file had not been taken from him by a senior police officer. He was taken off the case and later left the police.
The book ends with an appeal for victims to come forward, and one did. Netwerk 24 reported: “He told the publication that he had been kidnapped at the age of 13 in 1987 by a group of white men in Port Elizabeth.” He was “raped and forced to perform other sexual acts by former defence minister Magnus Malan and another ‘uncle’ ”.
The book implicates other Cabinet ministers. One was John Wiley, minister of environmental affairs. He was found dead, apparently by his own hand, in March 1987, weeks after the apparent suicide of Dave Allen. A conservationist, Allen had a guano concession on Bird Island and was close to Wiley. Minnie had confronted Allen and he allegedly confessed.
Malan, probably the second-most powerful person in South Africa at the time, was known for his highly militaristic response to any opposition to the apartheid regime. According to the book, Malan was confronted twice with the Bird Island allegations and he responded differently on each occasion, either denying or deflecting the claims.
A third minister alleged to have been involved is not named in the book: he is still alive and could sue for defamation, say the publishers.
Barend du Plessis, who was the minister of finance, told Rapport on August 12 that the references to the third minister were clearly aimed at him and he denied any involvement.
The story of the abused youths of Bird Island was investigated by several publications at the time, but definitive evidence was not forthcoming and the victims could not be traced. The few articles that were published drew the ire of prominent National Party politicians. Gavin Evans, a reporter at The Weekly Mail, recounted how reporters at The Star were advised to steer clear of the Wiley case, and Martin Welz’s investigations for Rapport were quashed. “The entire Cabinet came down on the editor, and the story was killed,” said Evans.