September 15, 2007

Anger rises in South Africa as killers walk free

Since soon after the fall of the apartheid regime Searchlight has investigated and revealed the involvement of former South African security service officers in trying to destabilise the new South Africa and lend their support to the far right internationally. We have exposed plots by the international far right, including people and groups in Britain, to plot assassinations and economic sabotage.

South Africa’s former hardline minister of law and order in the apartheid era received only a suspended sentence at the end of his trial last month after a plea bargain. Adriaan Vlok’s ten-year sentence was suspended for five years after he pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of a leading black activist cleric in 1989 in return for the withdrawal of charges of conspiracy to murder.

Vlok oversaw the bombings of the Cosatu trade union headquarters in Johannesburg in 1987 and the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches in 1988, for both of which he was granted amnesty by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1999. He did not apply for amnesty for the attempted murder by poisoning of the Reverend Frank Chikane in 1989, hence the prosecution.

Under Vlok’s watch the state police and military apparatus carried out countless assassinations of anti-apartheid activists within South Africa and on cross-border raids, ran dirty-tricks campaigns and fitted up innocent people. They also ran the notorious Vlakplaas farm, where opponents of the regime were tortured and murdered.

Vlok is just one among many apartheid regime operatives who have gone unpunished for their crimes. One of them has now become flavour of the month in the British National Party. Arthur Kemp, a former sergeant in the South African Security Police, was suspected of organising the surveillance of Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party, in the weeks leading up to his assassination in April 1993.

In June this year Kemp, whose 586-page tome March of the Titans is highly praised by Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, was handed the BNP’s Excalibur merchandise outlet to run alongside Nicholla Ritchie. Now Griffin has put him in charge of the ideological training of the BNP’s “voting members” as part of the plan to build a new elite within the party loyal to the present leadership. This puts Kemp among a very small group of Griffin’s most trusted lieutenants.

Writing on the BNP website Griffin said: “Arthur is a highly skilled and very welcome addition to our central team. I am delighted to have been able to bring him on board and hope he will be with us throughout the years of decision ahead of us.”

Kemp’s past presents no problem for the BNP, which has long made plain its regret at the fall of the murderous apartheid regime and its hatred for Nelson Mandela. The day before a new statue to Mandela was unveiled in London last month, the BNP website described him as “the man convicted of terrorist offences”, the “offences” in question being acts committed during the brave struggle by him and other fighters against white rule. The BNP’s article included a link to what it described as an “interesting poster” – the notorious “Hang Nelson Mandela” poster produced by the rightwing Federation of Conservative Students in the early 1980s, something that must be an acute embarrassment to at least one member of the current Shadow Cabinet.

Although Kemp was arrested after the Hani murder, he was never charged and had no need to apply to the TRC for amnesty. The TRC was set up after the end of apartheid under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to hear evidence from victims of apartheid. Perpetrators of politically motivated violence could also come forward to give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution, though not all were granted it and some ended up being prosecuted. It was seen as an important means of achieving reconciliation between the black and white communities. However critics point out that the failure to bring those who committed human rights abuses to justice was more likely to hinder reconciliation than help it.

Some commentators believe that there was also pressure from the West, that pursuing apartheid criminals would deter foreign investment in the new South Africa, though South Africa had its own economic clout, being rich in natural resources.

Remorse was not a prerequisite for amnesty but many who came to the TRC pleaded that they were changed men after finding religion. Last year Vlok washed the feet of Rev Chikane as a Christian gesture of atonement, something about which Rev Chikane himself felt uneasy but was pushed into agreeing by ANC government members. At the time the South African journalist Joe Qwelane, who was locked up without charge and witnessed savage beatings under apartheid, wrote that Vlok’s apology was unconvincing.

The TRC ceased operating in 2003 leaving many issues unresolved. It is now the prerogative of the national director of prosecutions to decide who to prosecute and who not to prosecute for crimes committed by both sides during the anti-apartheid struggle. Relatives of those who were unlawfully killed by the apartheid security forces and of those who died at the hands of ANC combatants both oppose this discretion, each believing that only people from their own side will be targeted.

There is a suspicion that some members of the ANC government, sitting in posts obtained through corruption, do not want to rock the boat by genuinely seeking justice for the victims of apartheid. And some ANC figures who also carried out crimes against their own people appear to have protection from powerful politicians.

On one side is AfriForm, a non-governmental organisation representing white farmers, some of whom do not seem to accept that anything has changed since apartheid. Black workers have been tortured and in some instances killed by their white masters.

Zimbabweans fleeing President Mugabe’s regime have to cross land owned by these farmers, some of whom have been taking the law into their own hands. Only a handful have been arrested and AfriForm has been busy supporting them. AfriForm is also championing the case of Dirk van Eck, an Afrikaner whose wife and children were killed by a landmine placed by ANC guerrillas at the height of the military struggle. Although van Eck agreed to a TRC amnesty for the two combatants, who are therefore legally and justly immune from prosecution, his name appeared on nearly every placard held by white demonstrators outside the court during Vlok’s trial.

Searchlight stands with all decent South Africans, black and white, who demand justice for those who died and were tortured, with proper investigations and reinvestigations and appropriate punishment for those found guilty.

Chris Hani’s name tops the list of those assassinated on state orders. Two men, Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis, are serving life sentences in South Africa for his murder, but others including Kemp have escaped justice.

The fall of the apartheid regime was greeted throughout the world with a huge amount of hope for the future. Since Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s president, corruption has grown and much of the black population remains in severe poverty.

Last month Hugh Masakela, a musician with an international reputation as one of the world’s greatest trumpet players and as a hero of the struggle against apartheid, told the world that he and many other musicians whose music became symbols of protest against white domination are no longer welcome in the new South Africa, because the ANC is “terrified” of music as an agent of change.

In an interview with The Times, Masakela said, “I am not bitter I am disgusted”. He accused the ANC of conniving in a “business deal” to bring about the end of apartheid that had entrenched the power of the elite but left most of the population in poverty. He agreed with critics of the TRC that reconciliation had not happened. “What is amazing is how the perpetrators [of crimes under apartheid] almost reluctantly apologised – ‘I’m sorry, forgive me’ – because a deal was there. It’s the same old story. After the Allies overran Germany you couldn’t find anybody who supported Nazism. It’s the same thing in South Africa. You can’t find anyone who supported apartheid.”

But like Germany’s Nazis after the war, South Africa’s white supremacists are still there and many, like Kemp and Lambertus Nieuwhof, who received a 12-month suspended sentence for bombing a South African church school and now runs the BNP’s internet operations, are still promoting the same views around the world. One of our most urgent concerns is to have these people as well as Leonard Veenendaal, a wanted white supremacist double murderer living in Cambridgeshire whom we exposed in our July issue, sent packing as soon as possible.

Vlakplaas torturer rewarded

Not everyone who committed human rights abuses on behalf of the apartheid regime was white. Vlakplaas was a remote farm that was taken over by a combination of govern-ment agencies to wage the internal and external war against the ANC and anybody else, black or white, battling apartheid.

Dirk Coetzee, the first commander of the covert Vlakplaas police unit, set about recruiting black members of his death and torture squads. Coetzee received an amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for his involvement in several crimes.

Many young black criminals found their way into his squads. One of the worst was Joe Mamasela. He had a streak of vicious ruthlessness that endeared him to his bosses, and enjoyed inflicting torture and killing people while he and his fellow officers enjoyed a barbecue. It is unlikely anyone will ever know how many ANC supporters died at his hands.

Sometimes he pretended to be an activist with MK, the military wing of the ANC. On one occasion he gave dodgy hand-grenades to fighters in Duduza township. Several were killed or maimed.

In 1986 he enticed ten township youth activists, promising to take them to Botswana to train with the MK. Before they crossed the border security officers ordered them off the vehicle and drugged them. Their bodies were then blown up. In 2005 the remains of the youths, who became known as the Mamelodi 10, were found and Mamasela admitted his role in the murders. He escaped prosecution in return for giving evidence about his colleagues, for which he was paid. He remains at liberty, enjoying a luxurious lifestyle, and is believed to be running a security company.

Adriaan Vlok, the police minister at the time the Mamelodi 10 were murdered, washed the feet of the victims’ mothers and widows, shortly before performing the same act on Reverend Frank Chikane. He described it as a deep spiritual experience. However he has always denied responsibility for the acts carried out by Vlakplaas and its officers.


1 comment:

J C Grobler said...

When politicians become delinquent and a threat to human life and dignity, you now have the opportunity to blacklist them and declare them persona non grata.