Search for an assassin

Richard Turner was shot dead at Christmas 18 years ago. That was the price he paid for fighting apartheid. The South African police didn't find the killer; they probably didn't try. Now his ex-wife, Barbara Follett, and the other women in his life are travelling home from London to tell his story. Will they find truth, or at least some solace? By Emma Daly

There was no sound the night Kim Turner's childhood ended, when she was nine, just the flash of a silenced bullet fired point-blank at her father Richard, one of the first white activists to be murdered in South Africa. "That Christmas, 1977, we went as usual to Durban on Boxing Day,'' Kim says. "This is quite hard for me to talk about. The day Dad was killed I find quite hard to remember ... there were nice things and they sort of get lost by the horrible things. It was raining a lot, and I just remember going to bed. And then I woke up, it must have been about a quarter past 12."

From her bed Kim could see the hallway and "what looked to me like a pool of water. I lay there for a while, wondering what was happening. Then I got up and I went into the living room and stepped over what I thought was this water and Dad was lying on the living room floor. I think he was face down.

"He was just wearing his pyjamas and he was covered in blood. I didn't touch him. I think I was quite frightened by this thing that had happened to him and it's hard to ...'' Kim's voice trails off. "There was a lot of panicking, really, but I spent a lot of time just sitting in front of him on a chair, just watching ... We couldn't phone out, the phone was dead. I suppose Dad probably died about 20 minutes later."

Richard Turner was not popular with the guardians of apartheid; he was a well-liked lecturer who exhorted his white students to question the morality of racial law in South Africa, an activist who helped to set up black trades unions. A professor of political sciences at Natal University, he was "banned" by the South African government in 1973.

This order, making him an official non-person, meant he could not work - or even enter an educational establishment - travel, or live as normal. His house was under surveillance by the Bureau of State Security, his telephone was tapped, his friends were interrogated. His family knew he could expect to be harassed - but they did not think he would be murdered.

They still don't know why, 18 years on. His ex-wife Barbara, with whom he remained on good terms, had rushed from Cape Town to Durban and took the girls home the next day. As she began to clean up, she found the spent bullet in Jann's bedding and Richard's bloody hand-print on Kim's bed. A CID officer took the bullet but told Barbara he did not expect the Bureau of State Security to conduct a real investigation.

Now the women in Richard's life - Kim, Barbara (now married to the best- selling writer Ken Follett, and a leading figure in Tony Blair's new establishment), Kim's sister Jann and her stepmother, Foszia Turner-Stylianou - are going back to South Africa to seek some answers and find, perhaps, some peace of mind. Next week they will testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This body was set up by Nelson Mandela's government to encourage the victims of apartheid to tell their tales and the perpetrators of state- sanctioned crimes to confess their sins in exchange for amnesty. Perhaps, the government thought, if everyone had their day in this kind of court, South Africans could heal the wounds of the past.

The four women will detail the lengthy but fruitless investigations they have conducted - Jann made a documentary for Channel 4 about the case - and the pain and damage suffered at the hands of an anonymous assassin.

Jann, who was 13 at the time of Richard's murder, saw the shooting. Her sister Kim says now, "I just remember Jann coming in and trying to clean him up with a J-cloth, a blue J-cloth, a stupid thing to remember, and trying to give him mouth-to-mouth, but he was very unconscious already. He didn't make any signs or movements." The two girls were alone in the house - Foszia, their stepmother, had gone to Botswana the day before, as the security forces well knew.

Curiously - or perhaps not - the constant police watch on Richard Turner appeared to have been mysteriously suspended on the night of his death. The police arrived perhaps an hour after he died, Kim says, after the phone service was restored, and took only a cursory interest in the case.

Foszia, in Botswana with no phone, was alerted by a neighbour. Jann managed to ring her mother Barbara, at home in Cape Town, to tell her: "Daddy's dead." Barbara rushed to Durban and took the girls back to the house the next day. As she began to clean up, she found the spent bullet. A CID officer took the bullet but told Barbara he did not expect the Bureau of State Security to conduct a real investigation.

There was a cursory inquest, then nothing. Barbara accompanied Foszia and the children to the funeral. On that day she received her first death threat; three months later, she moved the children to Britain.

Only as a widow was Foszia acknowledged officially as Richard's consort, when the police and press began to call her Mrs Turner. Until then, she was known only as his "constant companion"; Richard was white but Foszia was defined as "coloured" by the South African government, so their marriage was illegal. "The police asked me to identify the body; they would address me as Mrs Turner - I was always Miss Fisher in the past."

Foszia stayed in Durban and later married a journalist who was later detained pending a deportation order - "for not knowing his place either", she says bitterly - and three years later they too moved to Britain.

But their roots are in South Africa - Kim does not consider herself British - and it is there that some kind of resolution, the women hope, will come. "It can't compensate for what happened, but the acknowledgement of the immorality [of the state] ... I think that's very important,'' Foszia says. "A recognition of the pain that people have gone through."

Kim wants to find the truth, but is not sure what the commission means by reconciliation. She is in no mood to forgive, should her father's assassin become the first apartheid killer to confess to the commission."I don't think [the commission] should be about forgiveness at all, I think maybe it should be about accepting what happened, or acknowledging it. But I'm not there to forgive, and if the person who did it came forward and asked for forgiveness, I'd say no."

She believes that this extends beyond her experience and is important also for the sake of some kind of social contract, and perhaps to cut the huge crime wave sweeping the country post-apartheid. "I do feel that not only I need this but maybe South Africa needs some justice here,'' she continues. "We need to say that this is wrong; you don't expect society to murder you, you expect that society puts murderers away."

Barbara hopes the process will help Kim, in the way that making the film was cathartic for Jann. "The reconciliation side is very important for me. I think that if you don't face up in your personal life and your political life to what has happened, you are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past."

Kim and Foszia want Richard's killer to know what damage he wrought; they would like to put a face to the unknown assassin. The death of Richard Turner has left a gaping hole in the lives of all these women, but Kim has perhaps suffered the most. "He didn't deserve to die like that in front of his children in his house," she says. "For a long time I used to worry about it ... what it felt like, being shot."

Her mother, who considers that Kim and Jann's childhood ended that night, says she was always the quieter child, that she didn't talk much about Richard's death. "I think it's made me quite anxious," Kim says. "I would certainly never sleep in a room on the ground floor again. I think it ruined my peace of mind, which is a silly thing to mourn."

Perhaps testifying to the commission will help to restore that, and bring back to Kim some sense of Richard. "I don't remember my dad very well. I was very young. I remember he was very kind, quite calm, very patient; he read loads to us. I hope once I'm past all this bad stuff some of the good stuff will come back. He was human, he was just like anyone, but he was my dad,'' she says. "He got very lost for me in the brutality of his death. It would be nice to find him again"

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform