ANC 'terrorist' released: Pretoria is freeing one of its most hated political prisoners. John Carlin reports

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The Independent Online
MARRIAGE across the racial divide remains an aberration in South Africa, and that of Robert McBride and Paula Leyden has been an aberration by anybody's standards. The ceremony took place on Pretoria's Death Row on 10 May 1989; the honeymoon, in the presence of a warder, lasted 40 minutes. His next date was to have been with the hangman; hers, a visit to an unmarked grave.

She is a British passport-holder and her family is comfortably off, even by white South African standards. He is what South Africans call Coloured, and his family lives in a township. He is also the most notorious ANC 'terrorist' captured by the South African police.

In July 1986 he planted a bomb in a crowded Durban bar that killed three and injured 87. In 1987, he was sentenced to three death sentences and 67 years in prison. One of his co-accused, Matthew Lecordier, turned state witness and was freed, even though the court found that he had suggested the bomb be planted where it was, and not, as McBride had intended, in an empty supermarket at night.

By one of those perversions of truth for which South Africa is famous, Lecordier has lived in quiet obscurity, while McBride has emerged, since Nelson Mandela's release, as the country's most celebrated - and in white eyes, the most odious - political prisoner.

Two fellow members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's military wing, were released in July last year. Their crime was a copy of McBride's: they planted a car bomb that killed three and injured 67. But their victims were all black. It was McBride's effrontery in killing whites that rendered him the greatest obstacle to the holding of yesterday's Mandela-De Klerk summit meeting and resumption of negotiations on the country's political future.

The government, having agreed to free all political prisoners in May 1990, is finally releasing McBride tomorrow, and will release hundreds more over the next six weeks.

Mrs McBride, who works for Lawyers for Human Rights in Pretoria, and as such has campaigned for the release of all the prisoners, has spent the past three years in a ferment of anxiety and indignation. Relentlessly badgering politicians of every description to get her husband freed, she became a nightmare for Kobie Coetsee, the Justice Minister.

It was he who said in July last year that all political prisoners had been released, so it is he who comes out worst after last week's decision to release 550 more. But he has escaped the hectoring of Mrs McBride , and in that he will find some solace.

McBride will be haunted by his crime for the rest of what may be a long life; his letters from prison reveal a bitter remorse. It will not be easy for him outside - death threats are already coming in - but he is used to that. And for him, his wife and their marriage, things have been worse.

(Photographs omitted)

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