South African Death-Squad Leader, Eugene de Kock, Is Granted Parole

South Africa has granted parole to Eugene de Kock, the convicted death-squad leader widely known as Prime Evil because of his abuses of black activists during the apartheid era, after he served two decades in prison, the Justice Ministry said on Friday.

Mr. de Kock, 66, was arrested in 1994 on charges including murder and kidnapping related to his time as commander of a notorious police unit based at the Vlakplaas farm near Pretoria, the capital.

His crimes became emblematic of some of the worst abuses in the apartheid era, including the torture of black activists. One of the trademarks of the Vlakplaas unit was to bind a man with rope, place him over explosives and then blow him up, a technique that killed the victim and destroyed the evidence.


Justice Minister Michael Masutha said that Mr. de Kock was to be freed “in the interests of nation-building,” and because he had shown remorse for his crimes. Mr. Masutha also said that Mr. de Kock had helped the authorities recover the remains of some of his victims.

PhotoEugene de Kock at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1998. He received a prison sentence of two life terms plus 212 years. CreditDenis Farrell/Associated Press


The case laid bare South Africa’s struggle to balance justice and reconciliation, reflected in the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s. The commission sought to foster unity after the trauma and divisiveness of the apartheid era by granting amnesty in some cases in which suspects were deemed to have shown remorse for their actions.

While Mr. de Kock has expressed contrition during his imprisonment, critics say that his ruthless brutality merits no forgiveness or mercy, and that he deserves to spend his life behind bars.

Mr. de Kock testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after his conviction in 1996 on 89 charges that earned him a prison sentence of two life terms plus 212 years. Mr. de Kock was pardoned for some crimes, including his role in blowing up the headquarters of a Johannesburg church in 1988. But many of his other crimes did not escape punishment.

Mr. de Kock, a former police colonel, had argued that he deserved to be granted parole because no other members of the apartheid-era police force had been sentenced to prison terms. His defenders said that he was a scapegoat for the apartheid-era government, and that his acts were committed on the orders of higher authorities.

His parole is likely to provoke indignation among relatives of his former victims. “He’s a savage,” Victor Makoke, a relative of an activist killed by the Vlakplaas death squad, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying last month. “He needs to rot in jail.”

While Mr. de Kock was granted parole, news reports said that the justice minister had denied medical parole to Clive Derby-Lewis, a far-right politician who was the mastermind behind the assassination of a Communist Party leader, Chris Hani, in 1993.

Mr. Masutha said the date of Mr. de Kock’s release would not be revealed to the public, according to news reports.

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