Last year, a remorseful Mr Vlok washed Mr Chikane’s feet in a very public display of contrition. Nonetheless Messrs Vlok and van der Merwe are due in court on August 17th. The case has fuelled speculation over whether other apartheid apparatchiks might follow them and heated up a debate over whether political crimes should still be prosecuted.
The TRC was set up in 1995 to ease South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy and encourage reconciliation by shedding some light on the atrocities committed during apartheid. For a limited period, the TRC offered amnesty for crimes committed both by the apartheid regime and the liberation movements, on the condition that the perpetrators disclosed fully all the relevant facts and demonstrated that their actions were politically motivated. Many were turned down. Others argued that the TRC was biased and refused to come forward. So the TRC left many questions unanswered, and several hundred cases were transferred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) when the commission wrapped up in 2001.
Some of apartheid’s foot-soldiers complain that they are merely paying for the sins of their bosses. Eugene de Kock, who headed the infamous Vlakplaas hit squad and appeared in front of the TRC, has accused F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid president, who negotiated the political transition with the now-ruling African National Congress (ANC), of having blood on his hands. Known as ?prime evil? and serving a 212-year sentence at a maximum-security prison, the former policeman, famous for niceties such as bludgeoning a prisoner to death with a snooker cue, has approached the NPA, presumably to spill some beans. There has been speculation over whether Messrs Vlok and van der Merwe will now do so as well.
The former president, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Nelson Mandela for his role in dismantling apartheid, insists that he committed no crimes and that, if gross human-rights violations occurred on his watch, they were the actions of a few individuals, not part of a policy from on high. Howard Varney, a human-rights lawyer who headed an investigation into covert security operations, retorts that although Mr de Klerk may not have issued direct orders, he must have known what was going on.
More generally, South Africa is divided over whether it should still be prosecuting political crimes committed under apartheid at all, or whether it is time to move on. The ANC is in favour of prosecuting outstanding cases, and Mr Mbeki has rejected outright a proposal from the opposition Democratic Alliance to create a multi-party task-force to stop investigations and prosecutions dragging on. On the other hand, Dirk van Eck, who lost his wife and two children to an ANC landmine in 1985, and AfriForum, a civil-rights group affiliated to the predominantly white Solidarity trade union, would prefer all such prosecutions to stop at once. But they also say that if apartheid leaders are to be prosecuted, then ANC leaders should be too.