• Written by  PREGA GOVENDER,
  • Published in In the News
  • Read 2395 times

Little hope of finding the truth that lies buried with the bones

ONLY a few apartheid-era crimes are still being investigated, but the National Prosecuting Authority will not say how many or reveal the status of the investigations.

NPA spokeswoman Bulelwa Makeke said 350 cases had been handed to NPA investigators since the disbanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It was not possible to provide accurate information on the number of investigations dealt with because there had been no proper data-capture system at the time, she said.

In 2003, the priority crimes litigation unit took over the role of the human rights violation unit to deal with TRC cases. The litigation unit had been tasked with “a small number” of cases, but only where there had been a specific request to have those matters investigated.

The unit’s only successful prosecution was in 2007 — that of apartheid law and order minister Adriaan Vlok, police chief Johan van der Merwe and three other policemen for the attempted murder of the Rev Frank Chikane.

Vlok and Van der Merwe received 10-year jail terms suspended for five years. The three policemen were given five-year suspended sentences.

A case against three other security policemen implicated in the murder of Sipho Hashe, Qaqawuli Godolozi and Champion Galela was withdrawn because of a lack of evidence. The trio, known as the Pebco Three, were kidnapped in 1985 and murdered on a farm near Cradock.

Makeke said it was not possible to comment on “ongoing investigations” and that they were the responsibility of the Hawks, which liaises with the litigation unit.

Marjorie Jobson, National Coordinator of the Khulumani Support Group, said none of the cases lodged with the human rights violation unit had ever been prosecuted.

“An additional insult to victims is this fact that our Department of Justice, post apartheid, has not kept the contract they made with citizens to prosecute people who didn’t meet the criteria to get amnesty,” said Jobson. She said because so much time had elapsed, only murder cases could now be prosecuted.

Yasmin Sooka, a former TRC commissioner, said the failure to follow up on cases referred by the TRC was “a shocking insult to our democracy and the rule of law in South Africa”.

“We can see the effect of this impunity in the ongoing police brutality, because no one is being held accountable. Killers continue to walk about in South Africa without being held accountable.”

She described the Chikane case as “a travesty ”, saying: “Vlok and two colleagues plea-bargained without any disclosure as to who had given the orders and where the instructions came from.”

Author Beverley Naidoo said some of the most cynical perpetrators had gambled on evading the TRC. “Until now, 17 years on, it appears they predicted correctly that the government would not pursue them. The NPA needs to explain why it has no strategy to tackle at least those cases that are well documented and where there is still a reasonable chance of securing convictions.” Naidoo is the author of Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett, about the trade unionist who committed suicide in John Vorster Square in 1982.

Naidoo said the Aggett family had received a written assurance from the TRC that perpetrators without amnesty would be subjected to criminal prosecution.

Aggett's sister, Jill Burger, said she was “disappointed and alarmed” to learn that Steven Whitehead, an apartheid security policeman who interrogated her brother, was allegedly receiving state contracts.

TRC investigator Piers Pigou said there had been times over the past decade when the litigation unit had “absolutely no police investigators ” allocated to it.

“It’s a downright embarrassment, considering there was an implicit undertaking that these matters would be followed up post TRC.”

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