Cradock Four back to haunt De Klerk

As the furore over FW de Klerk’s apartheid denialism continues to rage, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is considering a request to charge him for his role in allegedly authorising the murder of anti-apartheid activists in 1985.

De Klerk, who served as the apartheid regime’s last president, is among those who may be charged for complicity in the murder of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, known as the Cradock Four.

In January 2018 the case was among 20 related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that the Hawks and the NPA had listed for re-opening for investigation.

Despite initial delays in the investigation and the removal of investigators linked to the apartheid-era Security Branch, the case is now with the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) for consideration.

Former TRC commissioner Yasmin Sooka, who along with the victims’ families and nongovernmental organisations, has been lobbying for the cases to be re-opened since 2003.


“There is a discussion with the NDPP. We have been putting a lot of pressure … to try and ensure that there are no further delays as people [who were involved in the killings] are dying,” Sooka said.

“One of the things we have suggested is that the NPA get the Calata matter and the Pebco Three matter on the roll. These cases go right to the top. Whether there is an inquest first, or whether the matter goes straight to a trial, is the discussion that is with the NPA.”

The Cradock Four were murdered by Security Branch operatives after being abducted at a roadblock, allegedly on the instruction of the State Security Council (SSC), which recommended that they be “permanently removed from society”.

A 1994 inquest found that the state had been behind their killing, which was carried out by Security Branch members and that the decision to act against the Eastern Cape activists had been taken by the SSC.

De Klerk was, according to documentation presented to the TRC, at the SSC meeting at which the operation to remove the four men from society was discussed.

The operation to assassinate the Pebco Three — Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela and Qaqawuli Godolozi — in 1985, was planned at the same level. Both cases are among the 20 on the NPA list.

Sooka said they believed that De Klerk had “‘command responsibility” for the actions of troops and police members who carried out murders and other crimes against activists.

Further, De Klerk’s presence in a large number of the SSC meetings at which illegal operations were authorised, gave him a level of direct responsibility over the actions that stemmed from the meetings.

“The fact that he sat in more than 90% of the SSC meetings and was present at the meeting in which the Cradock Four and the Pebco Three killings were authorised, is in my view more than enough to prosecute. The question that needs to be asked is why the state has never had the appetite to deal with the TRC cases,” she said.

In his two submissions to the TRC on behalf of the apartheid government and the National Party (NP), and in responses to further questions from it, De Klerk accepted overall responsibility for what happened under his leadership, but denied authorising any killings.

“In dealing with the unconventional strategies from the side of the government, I want to make it clear from the outset that, within my knowledge and experience, they never included the authorisation of assassination, murder, torture, rape, assault or the like,” he said.

“I have never been part of any decision taken by Cabinet, the SSC or any committee authorising or instructing the commission of gross violations of human rights. Nor did I individually directly or indirectly ever suggest, order or authorise any such action,” De Klerk said.

But he did say that he accepted “overall responsibility in respect of the period of my leadership”.

In its final report, the TRC found that it “could not accept” that members of the security forces and Cabinet serving on the SSC could not foresee that their terminology for actions against anti-apartheid activists “could be interpreted by members of the security forces as authorisation under certain circumstances to kill persons involved in resistance”.

The commission said the use of words like “elimineer” and “verwyder” (get rid of) by the SSC members, including De Klerk, apartheid defence minister Magnus Malan and intelligence head Niel Barnard would have been changed by them had they not intended them to be instructions to kill.

The wheel turns: Justice is again being sought for Matthew Goniwe (right), Fort Calata (second from right), Sicelo Mhlauli and Sparrow Mkhonto. (Karin Brulliard/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Shortly before the release of its final report in October 1988 De Klerk went to court to prevent the TRC from publishing a finding regarding his knowledge of the bombing of Khotso House, the base of the South African Council of Churches and other organisations, in 1988.

The TRC redacted the finding on De Klerk to prevent a further delay in releasing the report, but eventually released a finding that he must have had knowledge of the operation at the time he testified at the TRC in August 1996 and failed to make a full disclosure before the commission.

But this finding was never made an order of the court.

In his testimony about Khotso House, De Klerk said the then law and order minister, Adriaan Vlok, would “be in the best position to answer any allegations concerning the degree to which he was, or was not, informed about operational activities such as those involving Vlakplaas operations and the bombing of Khotso House”.

NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke had not responded to queries from the Mail & Guardian at the time of publication.

The FW de Klerk Foundation also failed to respond to calls and emails.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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