I am in the bush at the moment and was in process of putting together a blog about the sounds I hear every morning when I wake up. Then I read a news report about a man whose name is Eugene de Kock, known widely as Prime Evil.
He was serving a 212-year prison sentence - until a few days ago, when he was granted parole.
My initial reaction was disgust. Everything about De Kock and his crimes is sickening. Let me explain.
Apparently he was a quiet boy, who loved music. He was “not a violent person” said his brother, Vossie. Yeah, yeah!
After school he tried to join the South African military a couple of times, but was rejected for various physical reasons – a stutter on one occasion, and poor eyesight on another. Undaunted, he joined the South African Police and was involved in the Rhodesian Civil War, attempting to prevent incursions into South Africa by members of the black nationalist forces.
In 1979, he co-founded an organisation called Koevoet, whose purpose was to prevent incursions into South West Africa (now Namibia), which South Africa administered, by members of the South West Africa Freedom Party, which was trying to gain self-determination for the country. They were based in Angola.
This was also at the time South Africa was assisting the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in the Angolan civil war. South African forces were heavily involved in that conflict.
Koevoet rapidly gained a reputation for its brutal methods and high kill rate.
In 1983, De Kock joined a South African Police counter-insurgency group headquartered at a farm called Vlakplaas, near Pretoria. In 1985, he was promoted to head the unit. The purpose of the unit at Vlakplaas was to hunt down and kill opponents of apartheid - which he did most effectively.
Appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), after the government became democratic in 1994, he admitted to a large number of murders and other crimes and, per the charter of the commission, was pardoned.
|Eugene de Kock|
|Eugene de Kock at Truth and Reconciliation Commission|
|Eugene de Kock|
However, the TRC’s charter was only to hear crimes with a political background. So De Kock was then tried for eighty-nine crimes against humanity, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, illegal possession of firearms, and sixty-three counts of fraud. In 1996, he was convicted and sentenced to 212 years in jail.
Last Friday, he was paroled to very mixed reactions. Justice Minister, Michael Masutha, said that it was time to bury the past. He also said that De Kock would cooperate in finding the remains of many of his victims. Others felt that his crimes had been so heinous that he should be kept inside for the full term of his sentence.
Notably, but not really surprising to those who know him, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who led the TRC, said the release of De Kock represented a milestone on South Africa’s road to reconciliation and healing.
|My two heroes|
“I pray that those whom he hurt,” Archbishop Tutu said, “those from whom he took loved ones, will find the power within them to forgive him. Forgiving is empowering for the forgiver and the forgiven – and for all the people around them. But we can’t be glib about it; it’s not easy.
“De Kock deserves to be released on the basis that he has served a relatively lengthy term of imprisonment, he has apologised to and sought the forgiveness of many of his victims, and he has for some time given all the appearance (from what we have seen) of being ready for rehabilitation.
“As human beings we have unique capacities to reconcile, to forgive, to move on and to love again. While many may not welcome De Kock back into society with open arms, the fact that we have allowed for his return is to our collective credit, as people and as a nation.”
I admire Bishop Tutu immensely and found myself challenged by his belief in forgiveness for De Kock. Yet I have no doubt that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one of the most civilised events in history and was fundamental to the fact that South Africa survived an amazing transition. On the other hand, De Kock was Evil personified. I don’t believe in the death penalty, but a life in prison was tame compared to what he did to others.
So I find myself very conflicted by the parole. Initially I was dead against it, but I am also moved by Bishop Tut’s reasoning and compassion.
So what do you, dear readers, think of the parole? Where do you fall on the compassion index for crimes in extremis?
Stan – Thursday
PS. I just came upon a report in Times Live, which suggests that the whole issue may not be over. Apparently, De Kock was involved in starting two businesses while in prison, as well as serving as a director of several others started before he went to jail.
According to James Selfie of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, "You are not allowed to conduct any form of remunerated activity while serving a prison sentence. You cannot go into business.”
Contravention of this could lead to a revocation of parole as happened in another famous case – that of the Waterkloof Four.
The Ministry of Justice is investigating!