Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who led South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says the release from prison of notorious apartheid security police killer Eugene de Kock represents a milestone on South Africa’s road to reconciliation and healing.
“I pray that those whom he hurt, those from whom he took loved ones, will find the power within them to forgive him. Forgiving is empowering for the forgiver and the forgiven – and for all the people around them. But we can’t be glib about it; it’s not easy,” Archbishop Tutu said.
De Kock commanded the security police death squad based at Vlakplaas. He was sentenced in 1996 to more than 200 years in prison for crimes ranging from fraud to assault, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit murder, culpable homicide and murder.
“He committed hideous crimes on behalf of his political and security force masters. His arrest in 1994, and subsequent conviction, created the impression that the perpetrators of apartheid era crimes would be held accountable.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 1996 as a societal balm to begin the process of healing South Africa’s wounded soul. Platforms were created for victims of apartheid-era violence to address the nation, and for perpetrators to apply for amnesty in qualifying cases, provided they were found to have been truthful.
“But none of the security force members identified as perpetrators of human rights violations, none who were denied amnesty, and none who managed to avoid the TRC process altogether, were prosecuted. There was no follow through.
“The fact that De Kock was to a large extent left to carry the load of apartheid security force evil on his own does not diminish his culpability. That fact is an indictment on our government.
“De Kock deserves to be released on the basis that he has served a relatively lengthy term of imprisonment, he has apologised to and sought the forgiveness of many of his victims, and he has for some time given all the appearance (from what we have seen) of being ready for rehabilitation.
“As human beings we have unique capacities to reconcile, to forgive, to move on and to love again. While many may not welcome De Kock back into society with open arms, the fact that we have allowed for his return is to our collective credit, as people and as a nation.”
Commenting on the failed application for medical parole by Clive Derby-Lewis, the former Conservative Party leader serving a life sentence for the 1993 assassination of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Archbishop Tutu described as “disappointing” reports that Derby-Lewis had shown no remorse.
“Provided Derby-Lewis qualifies for medical parole, however, there is no question that he should be released. We must guard against creating the impression that there is one set of rules applicable to some people, and another set of rules applicable to others. I loved Chris Hani very much and I believe he would have supported Derby-Lewis’ medical parole because he was deeply committed to the path of reconciliation.”
This statement was issued for the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation by Oryx Media.