Friday, 20 March 2015

De Kock - a fairer application of transitional justice is needed

The story of Eugene De Kock’s release on parole is a signal moment; it brings together conflicting emotions, perspectives and questions about the failures and gains of South Africa’s transition process.

De Kock committed heinous crimes, including a series of murders. One is tempted to write that no one has sunk deeper perpetrating apartheid violence in South Africa than him. But then one remembers the collective violence that has been visited on black people over centuries. And one recalls those who gave the orders and those who turned a blind eye while hit squads terrorised communities and wiped out numerous black lives. But, when it comes to killing with your bare hands and literally smelling the blood of your victims, De Kock stands out.

I cannot argue with De Kock’s parole. By all accounts he has studied the technical requirements for parole and gone to great lengths to meet them. De Kock has also worked tirelessly – in a calculated manner, if you like – to cultivate support among those who could help his case.

On reading Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s book, A Human Being Died That Night, one sees the different sides of De Kock. There is the part of him that is willing – at specific moments – to open up, to make himself vulnerable and to face up to his evil deeds. But there is also the De Kock who is guarded, measured and who studiously avoids revealing too much about himself. This one shrinks from accessing the dark place that drove him to do his reprehensible deeds. In his latter mode, he worked methodically towards being granted parole.

There is disagreement in South Africa about De Kock’s impending release. On one side is the deep pain of the victims’ families, the scars that haven’t healed and those who lack closure.

Jane Quin, whose sister Jackie was killed by De Kock, is opposed to the parole decision, arguing that there is no basis for punishment to be shortened.

The family of Japie Maponya have indicated that, although they do not question the granting of parole, they will not give it their blessing. They say they will not forgive De Kock. Maponye was taken by De Kock to a remote area to be killed; although another officer shot him, De Kock hit him twice over the head with a spade. De Kock told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the body could not be buried because the ground was too hard and the body was dumped “under debris”.  

On the other side are those who choose the path of forgiveness. Some families of De Kock’s other victims supported his release. In addition, key public voices had called for De Kock’s release. In 2011, Andile Mngxitima – then a civil society activist – argued that De Kock was a Christ-like figure who paid the price of jail so that members of the white community could continue to enjoy their gains from the apartheid system. De Kock was a scapegoat and should be released, he said. Pumla Gobodo-Madikezela made the case that “releasing De Kock would open up the possibility of a movement towards a new politics of remembrance, one that would help invigorate dialogue about the kind of future we want and the future of young South Africans”.

De Kock’s parole is now a fact and he walks out of prison a free man. But his release – set against the reality of De Kock's crimes and the generosity of many in the black community – rekindles the demand for a fairer and more equitable application of transitional justice .... for a better balancing of the books. In this regard, it is imperative that authorities take the following actions:

·        We need a better resolution of the reparations issue. Government needs to sit down with those who received the modest reparations payout, most of whom remain unhappy about the reparations process, and other victims of gross violations still demanding their share. This group of people, organised through the Khulumani Support Group, constitute a key voice among those who faced the sharp end of repression. Even if it means using honest brokers such as Archbishop Tutu or Yasmeen Sooka, government needs to find a lasting conclusion to the reparations issue.

·        One of government’s investigating units should probe De Kock’s claims that top leaders in the apartheid government knew about his activities. Are de Kock’s claims false or do they have merit – government has the resources to establish the truth and provide a definitive report to the nation. De Kock should assist in providing evidence to back his claims that De Klerk, PW Botha were aware of or tacitly approved De Kock’s actions in cold-bloodedly targeting enemies of apartheid.

·        Government needs to proceed with the prosecution of those who did not seek or were denied amnesty. Against a background of hit squads, assassinations, poisonings, letter bombs and the many known persons that were involved in such deeds, Government has generally failed to follow through and press charges against perpetrators who still need to fully account.

Reconciliation should always be implemented in a manner that allows and welcomes contrary or questioning voices. South Africa generally celebrates those who have chosen to forgive apartheid’s torturers and killers. But we should equally honour and respect those like Jane Quin or the Maponye family, whose sense of culture and principle lead them to demand that forgiveness be denied or delayed. Both responses form part of a new South Africa based on compassion (especially for the vulnerable and most marginalised), attempts at reconciliation, human rights and the absence of impunity. 

(This article first appeared in the press on 6 February 2015).
Frank Meintjies

No comments: