Monday, January 24, 2022

Eugene de Kock also killed on Botswana soil

Judicially, the Eugene de Kock case is confined to his home country but during the lawless era of apartheid South Africa that he operated in, his tentacles reached into Botswana. In one raid, his men nearly took the life of a future Botswana National Front (BNF) vice president. A licensed serial killer, De Kock headed a death squad called Vlakplaas that carried out at least two raids in Botswana border villages. The first was in 1988 in Ditlharapeng, Borolong district and the second in Sikwane, Kgatleng district in 1990.

In the 1980s, Kopano Lekoma (who would become BNF vice president under Otsweletse Moupo years later) was an underground operative of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress. He operated a transit house at Ditlharapeng, a small village which is just a grenade’s throw away from the Botswana-South Africa border. Part of this operation entailed hiding weapons (mostly AK 47 rifles) and ammunition in large suitcases inside the house as well as burying them in nearby ploughing fields.

A goodly number of cadres also cycled in and out of this safe house. This operation went smoothly until 1988 when De Kock’s men raided this and two other houses in the village with the aid of South African Defence Force commandos. Fortunately for him, Lekoma was a safe 400 kilometres away in Mahalapye. Not as lucky were an MK operative and a 15-year old boy. Steven and Anna Lesole, Zinkie Bahumi and another man known only as Mr. Kuntakana survived the attack. During the Sikwane raid, the targets were Samsodien Chand and his wife, Harija.

However, the couple three sons ((Riedwaan, Armien, and Imran) as well as Poding Pule, a security guard, were also killed. De Kock personally shot and killed Pule and years later, this is how he described the killing to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when he applied for amnesty from it: “Chairperson, in single file we moved up in the direction of the front gate of this house; we moved in an east-westerly direction. There was a night guard or a guard who worked there, who was on the premises and he suddenly came out of an A-frame type house and addressed us. I did not understand his language, none of us understood or spoke his language. For a second time, he spoke to us in a loud and harsh voice and I inferred that what he said was: “Who are you, what are you doing here?” The group stood still. I was right at the back and I came through until I was in front of the guard and shot him in the head with the Scorpion. I fired three shots.

I shot three or four times in the head at least and while I moved back in order to obtain a better silhouette, I fell down an embankment of approximately two metres and injured my knee and after that I was no longer part of the operation.” At this point, there was no turning back. As De Kock writhed on the ground in pain, everybody else but two officers made a beeline for the Chand’s house.

Aided by the two officers, De Kock limped away from the house. “My leg was seriously injured. They couldn’t lift me because it would just be further injured,” he told the TRC. On score of the fact that the guns were fitted with silencers, the trio didn’t hear shots being fired when their colleagues executed the couple and their children. However, De Kock would tell the TRC that he heard “abnormal noises coming from the house. I can recall that the door – there was something bashing against the door.” The group reconvened after its mission had been accomplished and walked back to the Botswana border which was just a kilometre away.

De Kock said that the attack was launched in the dead of night to exclude the possibility of “probable guests” or “people coming home late or being in transit from one point to another.” That time of day was also ideal because “it would be a low point at border posts because the guards who were working there would probably be sleeping and wouldn’t suspect anything. It would also ensure that the Chands will be at home and we reckoned that those people that we would find there would probably be armed members of the PAC.” While the Chands operated a transit house for the Pan African Congress, De Kock told the TRC that they were also double agents who worked for the Directorate of Covert Collections (DCC), a covert unit of Military Intelligence Services of the SADF. For this particular operation, De Kock said that he had been approached by Tony Oosthuizen, the Head of the PAC Desk of DCC, to assist in the prevention of a group of PAC terrorists infiltrating South Africa. The intelligence he got was that there was a group of 76 heavily-armed PAC members staying at the Chand’s Sikwane house who were planning a cross-border attack.

De Kock said that there had been very specific instruction from the top that this transit facility had to be destroyed in order “to stop the infiltration and expatriation of members of the PAC and the weapons”. He claimed that Oosthuizen had told him that the infiltration of PAC members from Botswana was basically controlled operation by DCC. For this operation, De Kock had decided on AK47 guns and hand grenades of “communist or East bloc origin”. However, his commander – a General Nick van Rensburg, asked that De Kock and his team use Scorpion machine pistols “because they were standard weapons which were used by the PAC particularly, so that it would create the impression that it was probably or possibly members of the PAC who had performed these actions.” The ammunition which was used for this operation was either Chinese or Russian who were both sympathetic to the liberation struggle. Part of this deception was to fool DCC which was not to know that Vlakplaas was going to kill its spies in Sikwane – the Chands.

Before executing the operation, the group had been billeted at a deserted border farmhouse. It was from here that it carried out reconnaissance work over an extended period of time. SADF incursions into Botswana were a huge embarrassment to the Botswana Defence Force but in his testimony to the TRC, De Kock spoke (not highly) but well of it. He said that one of his fears about the Ditlharapeng operation was the possibility of an encounter with the BDF, “an effective defence force and the type of defence force that one would have to reckon with in the event of us running into one of their border patrols or in the event that we be followed by them after the operation”. De Kock, who was sentenced to 289 years for 87 crimes 20 years ago, is in the news again because he had applied for parole.

Last Thursday, South Africa’s Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, announced that the now 65-year old man had been refused parole. The law requires victims’ families to express their views about parole but this was not done in De Kock’s case. The process will start over and the minister will reconsider another parole application in a year’s time. When that happens, victims’ families in Botswana will not be consulted because the TRC granted De Kock amnesty for all the people he killed here. It is for killings for which amnesty was not granted that the input of families is required.

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