IN SA, history and hope have come together to create a bipolar nation. Last Wednesday, the Democratic Alliance government in Cape Town honoured FW de Klerk, renaming Table Bay Boulevard after the last apartheid president. Two days later, the African National Congress (ANC) government announced the parole of former police colonel and state assassin Eugene de Kock, who had served 20 years of his two life prison terms.
Both governments said their decisions were in the interest of nation building and reconciliation — yet the vocal opposition to the honour accorded to De Klerk stood in contrast to a certain ambivalence about De Kock.
"De Klerk is not a messiah. He was part of apartheid. He cannot be a messiah. He did not liberate us," said the ANC.
In contrast, at an exhumation ceremony in December last year for an askari killed at Vlakplaas, the Security Branch torture centre, Deputy Correctional Services Minister Thabang Makwetla reportedly said: "It’s important for us to remember that even the perpetrators of these heinous killings also deserve to be pardoned, forgiven. Both perpetrators and victims were victims of the system that destroyed our minds."
De Kock is a murderer who ran a state department of death. As journalist Jacques Pauw writes: "He was in command of Vlakplaas for eight years, during which he was involved in the killing of about 65 people. During his four-and-a-half-year stint with Koevoet in Namibia, he commanded a unit which killed hundreds of South West African People’s Organisation infiltrators and supporters.
"And during the early 1990s, De Kock and his men became a ‘third force’ when they flooded the townships around Johannesburg with weapons to enable Inkatha to wage a civil war against the ANC. Thousands of people died during this conflict."
This network was in the service of the apartheid government. De Klerk and his cabinet, along with Gen Johan van der Merwe, the commanding officer of the Security Branch, were not only responsible for a racist government, but presided over a brutal and murderous state. When the secrets of the death squads came out, they feigned ignorance and left men such as De Kock to carry the can.
He alone became responsible for apartheid crimes. In mitigation of his sentence, De Kock declared, "I can’t tell you how dirty I feel. I shouldn’t have joined the South African Police. We achieved nothing. We just left hatred behind us. There are children who will never know their parents and I will have to carry this burden forever."
But the narrative that De Kock represents "prime evil" is a dishonest account of history.
Vlakplaas was a not an aberration: it was part and parcel of the apartheid state, of which De Kock was one functionary among many. According to the missing persons task team of the National Prosecuting Authority, De Kock is apparently responsible for only two of the 95 cases of the people who are missing that the unit has investigated.
At the height of the conflict in the 1980s, the secret torture chambers were doing a lot of "work", from the Northern Transvaal Security Branch under Capt Hendrik Prinsloo, to the Eastern Cape division under the late Capt Gideon Nieuwoudt. Their commander was Van der Merwe. A few years later, De Kock went to jail and Van der Merwe was promoted to become commissioner of the South African Police.
Nor should we forget that state violence at home was run in parallel with wars, bombings and assassinations that killed untold thousands under the direction of the South African cabinet.
The politicians and the generals, and many of the killers, were never held accountable. They were allowed to walk, and the ANC argued that we should accept this in the interest of nation building and reconciliation.
This is what history served us, and we put our hope in institutions and the rule of law. According to Justice Minister Michael Masutha, De Kock has fulfilled the requirements to get parole.
According to the constitution, SA is a nation of laws. The rules must apply to everyone equally. Application of the rule of law is not the prerogative of a politician. Without it, we are lost.
• Morudu is a writer based in Cape Town. De Kock helped her family find closure in the case of Moss Morudu, who was tortured and killed by the Northern Transvaal Security Branch.
• Read Khulumani's comments on this article: Khulumani Reinforces the Call for an Adequate Programme of Reparations to Balance the Justice provided to Perpetrators 20 years after 1994