'Police mafia threatens endless war in South Africa': John Carlin in Pretoria spoke to Dirk Coetzee, in the former assassin's first press interview since returning to his homeland

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The Independent Online
THE outcome of the battle raging between President F W de Klerk and his police generals following the 'third force' revelations last week will determine whether South Africa plunges into war or emerges after next month's elections as a peaceful, stable democracy.

Dirk Coetzee, a former police captain and self-confessed state assassin, said yesterday that the future of the country depended on Mr de Klerk's resolve to arrest the senior police officers implicated with the Inkatha Freedom Party in a four-year terror conspiracy that has led to the deaths of thousands.

'De Klerk has always feared the police generals, that's why he's been led by the nose by them,' Mr Coetzee said. 'He's known they can destabilise the whole democratic process. That's why he hasn't acted against them before. But he knows that they are a monster on the loose, that the security police set-up is a huge mafia. If he'd cracked the mafia four years ago so many lives could have been saved. Now he can't delay the crunch any longer. He must hit them hard or the killings will just go on and on and we'll have Bosnia on the horizon. Break them and we'll have peace.'

Mr Coetzee knows 'the mafia' well. He served in a police hit-squad during the Eighties alongside Eugene de Kock, the colonel identified by Judge Richard Goldstone in his report last week as the individual arming, training and leading the Inkatha murder machine.

Mr Coetzee revealed all about his unit, C1 (now renamed C10) in November 1989 and then fled into exile. He lived in London for most of the time after fleeing and it was while he was living there that Colonel de Kock organised a plot to assassinate him, as disclosed in the Independent in July 1992. Scotland Yard provided him with round-the-clock protection for nearly two years.

He returned to South Africa in July last year and has been working for the intelligence service of the African National Congress. He gathered information on the state's terror networks by reactivating links with his old partners in crime. Judge Goldstone's revelations were an endorsement of everything Mr Coetzee has been alleging.

'I flew into Johannesburg on Sunday 4 July last year without anyone - not the ANC, not Scotland Yard - knowing about it. I was isolated and lonely in London and above all desperate because I knew that I had the information to stop the killings. I had to come back to do my bit.

'One thing I can do now is talk to the international team of investigators coming out to look at Goldstone's findings. The one thing they must understand is that they're dealing with a mafia. A big police mafia working with a junior partner, the smaller Inkatha mafia. Just look] Themba Khoza, the top Inkatha man in the Transvaal, working for De Kock on a police informer's wages]

'They're like a close-knit family, the senior officers in the security police - they don't call it the security police any more but it's still there, tapping ANC phones, files on ANC people still open. They go to each other's weddings, baptisms, birthdays. They know all each other's sins. And I'm talking about the Commissioner of Police, Johan van der Merwe, who used to be chief of the security police, the guys named by Goldstone, like Basie Smit the deputy commissioner, De Kock, everybody. I mean, don't tell me that De Kock could have brought three truck-loads of AK-47s from Namibia in 1989, just before independence there, without the generals knowing about it]'

Mr Coetzee drew another analogy. 'They're like the J Edgar Hoover set-up. One reason why De Klerk and his ministers haven't gone after them is that they have all the inside stuff, the personal stories, about the ministers themselves. They have been the real power in the country.'

What was the motivation behind the decision of the police to use Inkatha to orchestrate the war on the townships, to organise the killings on the trains? 'First, they can't bear the idea of serving under the old 'Communist', 'terrorist', 'anti-Christ' enemy, the ANC. They still think they can cause havoc to prevent democracy and majority rule - look at Natal right now.

'Second, they love the power they have in the family. They've been governing the country, for God's sake] Look at Basie Smit defying De Klerk and saying he's being treated like a prostitute - that's what he said in the papers on Sunday. But a prostitute is more honest, far, far more than these guys.'

Proof of the hold the police have on Mr De Klerk is provided, according to Mr Coetzee, by the way in which he has dealt with Colonel de Kock. 'De Kock is the biggest killer of them all. In Namibia, at the head of the Koevoet (Crowbar) unit, he would wipe out entire communities loyal to Swapo. He killed over the border in Swaziland, where he'd go under the name of Parker on a false passport. He's gunned down dozens of ANC activists and now he's been organising the killings in the townships. Then there was the plot to kill me in London. De Klerk was told about that by John Major's office. He would have known too that the British authorities deported him after he came in on another false passport under the name of 'De Wet'. The British government made a big stink about it, especially as he was working with Protestant Ulster terrorists.

'And then what happens? On 30 April last year De Kock officially leaves the police force with a pay-out of 1.2m rand (pounds 240,000) authorised by the cabinet] A lieutenant-colonel can't get that sort of package. Obviously the police told the cabinet what to do - it was keep-your-mouth-shut money.'

The way to make amends now for Mr De Klerk, to whom Mr Coetzee wrote in February 1991 to tell him what he knew, was to treat them as common criminals. 'You've got to put them behind bars, especially De Kock because then others will come forward and tell their stories who would otherwise be too terrified by him to talk. And then, you'll see, they'll split on each other. Without all that power, too, they'll show how stupid they are. Just watch. Break them, break that mafia and we'll have peace, even in Natal where Inkatha will collapse without the big godfathers to watch over them.'

(Photograph omitted)