Police implicate former president
in apartheid-era assassinations
October 21, 1996
Web posted at: 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT)
From Bureau Chief Mike Hanna
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Five senior South African
police officers seeking amnesty before the nation's Truth and
Reconciliation Commission have blamed a former South African
president Monday for acts they committed during the apartheid
In written statements, the officers admitted responsibility
for the murders of more than 40 people. They want to be
pardoned in return for demonstrating their acts were not
the work of rogue individuals but part of a state-sanctioned
program of assassination and intimidation.
Even today, journalists struggle to put faces to the names of
those who have admitted guilt. Appearing on behalf of the
men, former police commissioner Gen. Johan van der Merwe said
Monday the men were following orders from their superiors and
from members of the South African government.
Van der Merwe cited the 1988 bombing of a Johannesburg
building as an example. "During 1988, I received an
instruction from Mr. Adriaan Vlok, then Minister of Law and
Order, to the effect that the building known as Khotso House
was to be damaged by explosives to such an extent that it
could no longer be utilized," van der Merwe testified before
At the time of the bombing, the Khotso House housed a number
of known anti-apartheid organizations. Nobody was killed in
the bombing, but 23 people were injured.
Until now, the government of the time and its security forces
had consistently denied any complicity in the attack. Van der
Merwe testified that Vlok told him, "this instruction had
come from President P.W. Botha personally."
The 40 murders the officers confessed to included the deaths
of anti-apartheid activists Fabian and Florence Ribiero, who
were gunned down in 1986. Until now, their assassins were
In 1989, F. W. de Klerk succeeded P.W. Botha as president,
and as leader of the ruling National Party. De Klerk has
repeatedly claimed he had no knowledge of illegal actions by
the security forces, a claim the five officers seeking
amnesty said in a statement they seriously doubt.
"We call upon the previous government, and our superiors, to
explain certain orders given to us, about which we shall
testify, and to admit to authorizing actions outside the
normal processes of the law, such as are demonstrated by
the facts of our deeds and the authorizations thereof," said
their attorney, Willem Brits.
South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed
to probe political crimes that occurred between 1960 and
Already it has heard testimony from a former police official
who implicated the South African government in Swedish Prime
Minister Olof Palme's 1986 assassination. Palme was an
outspoken critic of apartheid. Craig Williamson, the security
police spy blamed for the assassination, emphatically denied
Monday that he had anything to do with Palme's assassination,
and didn't know who was involved.
Yet even at this early stage it appears that even more
damning evidence will surface before the amnesty committee,
implicating the once all-powerful security forces and their
political masters in crimes against humanity. The officers'
testimony Monday was all the more convincing, because it
comes from those who were once prepared to kill in order that
the truth be kept hidden.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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