Assassin 'told to kill Winnie's lover'

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The Independent Online
Eugene de Kock, South Africa's infamous state assassin, took a day off from a 200-year jail sentence yesterday to testify about murder allegations against Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Mary Braid watched the man nicknamed Prime Evil break the old apartheid ranks.

Eugene de Kock, former commander of the apartheid-era police death squads, yesterday claimed that he was ordered to murder a lover of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's reputed to have testimony which would have convicted her of murder.

Looking harmless in regulation prison green and heavy glasses, de Kock, convicted of a string of state-sponsored murders, said he was instructed to kill Themba Mabotha by Colonel Jan Potgieter, of the Soweto security police.

Mr Potgieter had just told the same hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating the brutal apartheid years, that he had no part in the murder. But he backed other witnesses' claims that Mr Mabotha was arrested while trying to cover up Mrs Mandela's involvement in the 1989 murder of Stompie Seipei Moeketsi, 14.

De Kock's testimony was eagerly awaited. A string of former Soweto security police - seemingly economical with the truth - had left TRC investigators spitting. Unlike them de Kock has nothing left to lose and no allegiance to the old system.

Once one of apartheid's most brutal defenders, de Kock is now a bitter man; betrayed he believes by his old masters. National Party ministers and former presidents claim they had no idea that monsters like him existed. De Kock says he was their creation and everything he did was sanctioned by them.

As Mr Mabotha's mother wept in the front row, de Kock gave a chilling account of the day her son died. After being handed over by Mr Potgieter he said Mr Mabotha had been interrogated from early morning until 4pm. He was stripped and wrapped in a blanket to prevent the tell-tale signs of violence before being strangled, beaten and kicked. Five or six Soweto security policemen had joined de Kock in the assault.

De Kock said he later shot Mr Mabotha twice through the heart and was surprised that instead of burying the body he was ordered to blow it up. He said he had never been asked to do that before and assumed it was because in this case no trace of a body was to be left at all.

Yesterday's evidence at the resumed hearings into the Mandela United Football Club, Mrs Mandela's bodyguards, may have added to pressure for her to be charged with murder. It did nothing to clear up the nature of her relationship with the apartheid-era police.

Did the police, as the conspiracy theory goes, cover up Mrs Mandela's involvement in the eight murders in which the football club is implicated? And if so, was it to avoid a political scandal at a crucial point in the negotiations for her husband's release from prison or were they storing up damning evidence for the political horse trading that was to come?