Murder case threatens shame for De Klerk five murders

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The Independent Online
South Africa's Deputy President, FW de Klerk, and three of his former ministers are facing the prospect of paying pounds 82,000 damages and effectively having to admit responsibility for the 1993 murder of five schoolboys. If they do not mount a defence before 31 July they will have an undefended judgment entered against them in the Supreme Court.

The case arises from the killing by special forces at Umtata, capital of Transkei, of Mzwandile Mfeya and Sandiso Yose, both 12; the twins Sadat and Samora Mpendulo, 16; and Thando Mtembu, 17.

The solicitor for the dead boys' families, Dumisa Nsebeza, last week lodged notice of a claim in the court seeking an undefended judgment by the end of the month against Mr de Klerk, RF "Pik" Botha, the former foreign minister, now Minister of Mines; Hernus Kriel, premier of the Western Cape, and Kobie Coetsee, President of the Senate.

The five boys were killed in a raid for which Mr de Klerk originally denied responsibility, apparently unconcerned that he had sent troops into a bantustan - a country which the apartheid regime had claimed was independent of South Africa.

On the day after it happened he said that the cross-border attack had been successful and that the house where the killings took place had been a base for the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress

An undefended judgment would be a further serious blow for the former South African president - winner with Nelson Mandela of the Nobel Peace Prize - who is already under attack for his involvement in illegal actions against President Mandela's African National Congress in the run-up to last year's general elections.

The parents' action went to the Transkei Supreme Court in April 1994 where it was delayed by elections, by the collapse of Transkei as a sovereign state, and by requests from the four defendants for time to prepare their cases.

"Since then there has been one delay after another," said Mr Nsebeza.

Meanwhile the parents have been offered out-of-court settlements. These included a verbal offer by the present justice ministry of the payment of their civil claim for damages, and a public apology - by President Mandela - for the actions of the previous De Klerk government.

If the judgment is given to the boys' families, then the defendants will at least escape the embarrassment of seeing evidence offered publicly in court. Nevertheless, said Mr Nsebeza the families were "adamant they want the truth made known".

There is little likelihood that Mr de Klerk and his colleagues will face criminal charges for their part in the killings. Under an agreement between the ANC and Mr de Klerk's National Party earlier this year, the amnesty which had hitherto shielded those guilty of crimes committed before August 1993 was extended to the end of the year. Those involved in the Umtata killings do not now face criminal prosecution. The affair will be investigated, however, by the Truth Commission now being established.

Meanwhile new evidence has emerged that military intelligence directed hostile propaganda against the ANC until 1992. Under the acronym Komops, the military financed the International Freedom Foundation which, with co-operation from so far unnamed British and other journalists, carried out or promoted everything from anti-ANC films to a commission hearing on alleged ANC atrocities. Komops was under the control of the State Security Council, headed by Mr de Klerk.