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"

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