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Apartheid sinners face the music: the recent arrest of Gideon Nieuwoudt, a former apartheid policeman allegedly implicated in the death of Steve Biko, has suddenly thrown the spotlight on the apartheid sinners who slipped through the fingers of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The net is now closing in on them, reports Pusch Commey.

When South Africans sought to reconcile and find the way forward after years of apartheid, they devised the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which promised full amnesty for confessions. But some apartheid sinners slipped through the net because their crimes were deemed politically motivated. Others opted to go before the TRC with half-truths and even lies, or refused to go at all. Now the net is closing in on them.


On 11 February, the elite investigation unit, The Scorpions, arrested and charged Gideon Nieuwoudt, one of the notorious apartheid sinners, nicknamed "Notorious Nieuwoudt". He is accused of the deaths in 1985 of three black activists, dubbed the "Pebco Three". Nieuwoudt is now on R50,000 bail and will appear in court again on 3 June.

Justice Minister Penuell Maduna said the arrest should send a "signal" to others who had not received amnesty from the TRC. He advised them to report to the National Prosecuting Authority to give a full disclosure of their past crimes or face the music.

Nieuwoudt is allegedly implicated in the events of 8 May 1985, when three community leaders--Qaquwili Godolozi, Champion Galela and Sipho Hashe--were abducted at the Port Elizabeth airport in the Eastern Cape, severely tortured and murdered on a farm near the town of Cradock.

All three were members of the then Port Elizabeth Black Civil Organization (Pebco), an affiliate of the popular United Democratic Front (UDF) which also fronted for the then banned and exiled African National Congress (ANC). Their bodies were then burnt and thrown into the Fish River.

In June 1999, the TRC refused amnesty to Nieuwoudt and his accomplices--Herman Barend Du Plessis (former commanding officer of the security police in Port Elizabeth); Johannes Martin Van Zyl, and Gerhardus Johannes Lotz--because they failed to make a full disclosure of their crime as required by law.

An arrest warrant was issued for Van Zyl in mid-March, when he was out of the country. Nieuwoudt has appealed against the amnesty findings. An ex-colonel. Nieuwoudt is said to have interrogated (and allegedly implicated in the killing of the Black Consciousness leader) Steve Bantu Biko.

He was also mentioned in the 1985 killing of the "Cradock Four"--Mathew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli--who were UDF leaders and civic activists in the Eastern Cape.

He was granted amnesty in March 2000 for poisoning the leader of the Congress of South African Students, Siphiwo Mthimkulu, and his companion Topsy Madaka.

Together with Vlakplaas (death squad) commander, Eugene de Kock, and several others, Nieuwoudt was also found responsible for the death of Warrant Officer Mbalala Glen Mgoduka, Sergeant Amos Temba Faku, Sergeant Desmond Daliwonga Mpipa and Xolile Shepherd Sekati, who were killed for threatening to expose unlawful activities in the security police.

The National Prosecution Authority's priority crimes litigation unit is re-probing the Cradock killings as well as others. More arrests are expected.

The arrests and investigations have evoked consternation in sections of the white community. Emboldened by Nelson Mandela's reconciliation project and the overt lack of animosity by blacks, whites had begun to take black forgiveness for granted. Some even interpreted it as a sign of weakness.

A reflection of this has been the impunity with which certain sections of the white population still treat blacks. The worst offenders have been farmers who are to this day treating their labourers like animals (see story on p31).

But sections of the white community, despite their constant whining, have acknowledged and marvelled at how forgiving blacks are. Knowing well the horrors of apartheid, they cannot comprehend how they got off so lightly. If they were in black shoes, retribution would have been swift and merciless. The debare has been taken up in academic circles, and some cannot understand Nieuwoudt's arrest when they thought it was all in the past.

The Beeld newspaper quoted Charles Villa-Vicencio, director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, as saying Nieuwoudt's arrest could have serious implications for reconciliation and nationbuilding because he may, at his trial, reveal a number of names in the line of command which could lead to more investigations and possible arrests and prosecutions.


Dr Koos Malan, a professor of law at the University of Pretoria and member of the Group of 63, an Afrikaner association, differs: "If Nieuwoudt is prosecuted, it won't have any significant impact on the political situation in South Africa. Nieuwoudt is really not representing any meaningful or significant sentiment among Afrikaners.

Malan continued: "What he did was clearly criminal. The TRC process is structured in such a way that if a person has applied for amnesty and was unsuccessful, obviously he must be prosecuted afterwards." However, The Freedom Front which represents the interest of the right, was livid. Its spokesperson, Pieter Mulder, said if the National Prosecuting Authority was to be consistent, it should also prosecute President Thabo Mbeki and other senior ANC leaders.

The ANC questioned the amnesty process when the TRC bizarrely tried to equate the wrongs of liberation fighters with that of apartheid atrocities. To them, it was reconciliation gone mad. They, thus, refused to make any individual applications and disclosure.

Nieuwoudt's arrest was, however, welcomed by the ANC in Kwazulu-Natal, a hotbed of violence in the past. "This arrest will drive home a message to those who murdered our people, refused to confess or lied to the TRC, that they have got nowhere to hide," said the Natal ANC spokesperson, Mtholephi Mthimkhulu.

A distinguished South African writer, Anjir Krog, writing in the South African Sunday Times after Nieuwoudt's shock arrest, however, questioned why some prominent generals with their comfortable retirement packages (golden handshakes) had been left off the hook.

She asked why, for example, former President P.W. Botha who spurned the amnesty process, smirked at the victims, and declared: "I will confess before God and not Archbishop Desmond Tutu", should enjoy a peaceful retirement on his farm.

Why, Krog further asked, has former President F.W. de Klerk gone free? In short, those who presided over apartheid and knew what they were up to, have, surprisingly, become untouchables!
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Title Annotation:South Africa
Author:Commey, Pusch
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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