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.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

Related stories

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

How embroidery broke the silence around women’s apartheid trauma

By making embroideries, women move beyond and challenge categories and labels of “being vulnerable” or being perceived as “marginalised”

US ‘brokered’ agreements on Israel: Wind of change or toxic blast of extortion?

The United States is negotiating with African countries that will see them exchange Palestinian people’s rights for improved economic and trade conditions

How to whitewash colonial pain and trauma

Approval of the River Club development in Cape Town is reminiscent of those bulldozing spatial planners of apartheid

The pencil test still colours the rainbow nation illusion

This latest racist hair fiasco is just one more thing that all the darkies in me are tired of defending and explaining

SA in dire need of a political spring tide

The only time change has occurred in South Africa is in response to global events such as World War II. The country is once again facing such an event — Covid-19 — and will have to react

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday