De Klerk knew of secret hit squads, says assassin

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Eugene de Kock, the self-confessed apartheid state assassin, yesterday told the Pretoria Supreme Court that FW de Klerk, despite his denials, knew covert state military hit squads were operating while he was president.

De Kock, former commander of the infamous secret Vlakplaas security police unit, said the former president had given the order to attack the Transkei, an apartheid "independent homeland" in 1993, and Vlakplaas had carried it out. The incident, in which five children died, almost derailed the peace process.

"De Klerk cannot say he did not know that covert organisations existed," said De Kock, who is pleading in mitigation of sentence after being found guilty of 89 charges, including six murders. "Who did he think was going to carry out that attack?"

De Kock's allegations come a day after he implicated the former president PW Botha and the former ministers Pik Botha, Magnas Malan and Adriaan Volk, and an array of generals and high-ranking police and defence force officers. Last month Mr de Klerk told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Nationalist Party governments had never authorised murders or assassinations.

De Kock, the most senior policeman to be convicted in South Africa, had promised that if he went down, others would go with him. He aims to show he was only part of an elaborate, secret, state-backed operation authorised from the highest echelons of government. But so far he has offered no hard evidence which would nail generals or former ministers. He claims that Vlakplaas had destroyed documentation.

The real value of his testimony is the pressure it exerts upwards. The attorney-general is said to be following the proceedings closely. More captains and colonels will now face criminal charges, and are expected to turn state's evidence or apply to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesties. Either way they will implicate those above them. Several of the generals De Kock has fingered were already subpoenaed to appear before the commission. Each step takes the new South Africa one step closer to the apartheid regime's Security Council in which the president and some of his ministers served.

The commander has alleged that his immediate superior, Brigadier William Schoon, instructed him to murder and to bomb - on the authorisation of PW Botha. De Kock said: "If it was not for the National Party being in power we would have been arrested long ago and if they were still in power I would not be in court today."