'Prime Evil' apartheid death squad commander Eugene de Kock granted parole in South Africa

His undercover Vlakplaas police force assassinated anti-apartheid activists

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Friday 30 January 2015 13:31
Eugene De Kock a former Vlakplaas commander speaks to the judge at a Truth and Reconcilation Commission in 1999
Eugene De Kock a former Vlakplaas commander speaks to the judge at a Truth and Reconcilation Commission in 1999

The South African death squad leader known as “Prime Evil” for organising the murder and torture of anti-apartheid activists is to be freed from prison.

Eugene de Kock, now 66, was sentenced to life in jail plus 212 years for the numerous crimes he committed in the 1980s and 1990s but has now been granted parole after two decades behind bars.

The time and place of his controversial release will not be made public, Justice Minister Michael Masutha said, adding that De Kock had requested the conditions of his release remain secret.

Mr Masutha rejected the former police colonel’s parole request in July on the grounds that relatives of his victims had not had their say but said he has now granted it “in the interest of nation building and reconciliation”.

Eugene de Kock was sentenced to two life terms and more than 200 years, after a killing spree that cost dozens of lives, at an amnesty hearing of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commision (TRC) in Pretoria, South Africa

De Kock's death squad, the police’s C1 “counter-insurgency” Vlakplaas unit, targeted suspected opponents of white rule, killing and torturing dozens of anti-apartheid activists.

The accusations against De Kock and his unnamed subordinates included shooting, stabbing, burning and bombing their targets, including one man reportedly assassinated using explosive-rigged cassette player headphones.

After Nelson Mandela’s release in February 1990, he organised with Inkatha (the anti-ANC Zulu party) large-scale black-on-black violence with the object of derailing the African National Council’s hopes for a peaceful transfer of power.

Conflicts in Natal and Transvaal caused some 12,000 deaths between August 1990 and April 1994, and future President Mandela later wrote that he suspected “a hidden hand behind the violence…attempting to disrupt the negotiations”.

De Kock was arrested in 1994, when apartheid ended, and jailed after a trial in 1996.

During his time in prison, De Kock has made contact with some of his victims' families, asking for forgiveness, and helped authorities to trace activists who went missing during apartheid.

He confessed to more than 100 acts of murder, torture and fraud before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which granted him amnesty for most offences.

During the public hearings, he described the murders of a number of ANC members in several countries, including Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Angola, naming the police commander above him in each case, the BBC reported.

Demonstrators hold an anti-apartheid protest march through Johannesburg on 14 October 1989

Sandra Mama, the widow of Glenack Mama who was murdered by De Kock in 1992, said she thought granting him parole was the right decision.

“I think it will actually close a chapter in our history because we've come a long way and I think his release will just once again help with the reconciliation process because there's still a lot of things that we need to do as a country,” she told the BBC.

She shares the opinion held by many South Africans that De Kock did not act alone.

“He got the instructions from the top and they got away with it. They're living, you know... they're amongst us today and one man is taking the fall,” she said.

Additional reporting by PA