Apartheid's assassin accuses former leaders of state-sponsored murder

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The 18-month trial of Eugene de Kock, the most senior policeman to be convicted in South Africa and one of the apartheid state's most accomplished assassins, always promised a dramatic conclusion. If he was going down, De Kock said, others were going with him.

Yesterday, during his plea in mitigation, De Kock, who was convicted of 89 charges including six murders, implicated former president PW Botha and former ministers Pik Botha, Magnus Malan and Adriaan Vlok, and a host of generals and high-ranking police officers in the murder and mayhem carried out in the name of the state.

At last month's special party submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, FW de Klerk, the former president and PW Botha's successor, said that the National Party government had never authorised its security forces to commit murder, torture or assassination.

He said he would be very surprised if it was proved that cabinet ministers had had any part in atrocities.

Yesterday, De Kock painted a chilling picture of state-backed murder and bombings. It belied any notion of De Kock as a lone psychopath, or Vlakplaas - thesecret police unit he commanded - as a rogue police unit. Rather, De Kock was part of a huge, determined machine which encompassed the police, armed forces and shady security units.

His evidence was peppered with detailed vignettes, including his part in the bombing of the African National Congress's headquarters in London in March 1982, which he revealed almost did not happen because an immigration officer questioned him for five hours about his reasons for being in Britain.

De Kock, who had carried out many cross-border raids on South Africa's neighbours, remembered the day he was instructed by his commander, Brigadier William Schoon, to blow up the Johannesburg headquarters of the trade union group, Cosatu. "I was amused," he said. "Because now we were talking about terrorism on home ground." Brigadier Schoon, he claimed, told him that authorisation came straight from President PW Botha.

De Kock said Adriaan Vlok, the former law and order minister, had attended a Vlakplaas celebration barbecue after the bombing of a church building associated with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mr Vlok had personally congratulated the men on their work and promised they would "fight the ANC for a thousand years". De Kock said the archbishop's phone had been bugged after the bombing. Conversations revealed how upset he was by the incident.

He told the court that he personally had supplied Philip Powell and Themba Khoza, senior figures in the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, with guns, adding that the government's security forces agitated the violence between the ANC and IFP in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Pre-raid intelligence to Vlakplaas hit squads was often poor, he revealed. After people were murdered in cross-border raids there was often no evidence of Pan-Africanist Congress or ANC membership. So guns were produced from Vlakplaas's collection to back claims that they were armed terrorists. There was laughter when De Kock revealed that he got so fed with requests for "plant" guns from Natal that he loaded a van and drove a consignment up there. After one raid on Botswana he was honoured "in strictest privacy" with a medal.

During hours of evidence, De Kock confessed to many more murders. He is expected to apply to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty on the grounds that the killings were politically motivated.

Several of the generals he implicated have already been subpoenaed to appear before the commission. He will continue his plea at Pretoria Supreme Court today.