Racism in south africa: forgive and forget

The leader of a death squad in the former apartheid state has been released on parole. This should contribute to national reconciliation.

De Kock in 1999 before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Pretoria. Photo: reuters

The South African government is releasing on parole the leader of a death squad in the former apartheid state who was sentenced to life in prison. Justice Minister Michael Masutha said Friday this was in the interest of national reconciliation. However, acquaintances of de Kock’s victims have struggled to accept the release.

De Kock had led a feared task force that targeted suspected opponents of white rule and was responsible for dozens of killings. Last year, Masutha had rejected parole for de Kock, saying it was not in concert with the families of de Kock’s victims. He did not want to make public the place and time of the release.

De Kock had been arrested in 1994, when the apartheid system with its strict racial segregation ended. In 1996, he had been sentenced to two life terms and an additional 212 years in prison.

Eddie Makue, who was working for the South African Council of Churches when de Kock bombed its headquarters in 1988, injuring 19 people, reacted skeptically… To be sure, he accepted Masutha’s reasons. But he still struggles to accept the harm done to prisoners by de Kock and his unit, said Makue, who is now a member of parliament. His faith obliges him to accept that de Kock has changed, he said.

During his testimony before the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, de Kock had recalled how his unit and he had tortured and killed anti-apartheid activists. The commission recommends amnesty for those who admit to having done wrong during the apartheid era. For some crimes, de Kock was pardoned. However, he was convicted of murder and other charges.

During his time in prison, de Kock had contacted some of his victims’ families and asked for forgiveness. Masutha said de Kock had helped find activists who had been considered missing during apartheid. Makue, however, said he assumed that the former police officer had not told the full truth so far.