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S. African apartheid assassin jailed for life

But Eugene de Kock may evade major prison time

October 30, 1996
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EST (2015 GMT)

Eugene de Kock
From Correspondent Mike Hanna

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- Eugene de Kock, an assassin for South Africa's former whites-only government, was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday. The former head of a secret police unit, known by his colleagues as "Prime Evil," is the highest ranking officer convicted so far for apartheid crimes.

A life sentence is the maximum possible in South Africa, where the death penalty has been abolished. There remains a chance, however, that de Kock, 47, will not have to serve any significant prison time following his 18-month trial.

Is amnesty justified?

He has asked for amnesty from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The panel, headed by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu, can free perpetrators of human rights abuses who confess and prove their deeds were politically motivated.

But Catherine Mlangeni, whose son's head was blown off in 1991 by booby-trapped cassette player mailed by de Kock, said she's seen no evidence that the ex-police colonel is remorseful.

Mlangeni and son

"Many times I go to Pretoria (for the trial). (There's no) sign that he is sorry for us. Why should I be sorry for him so he gets amnesty?"

Bheki Mlangeni, who left a widow and son, was a lawyer for the now ruling African National Congress (ANC).

"De Kock thinks he (only) killed Bheki. But he also killed Bheki's family. We are suffering," said the victim's brother, Lindani.

De Kock "should have died while he was in his mother's stomach. This man is cruel," cried an angry woman outside the courthouse after the sentencing.

Punishment for others sought

Tutu called de Kock's life sentence justified but said those who gave him his orders should also be called to account. In a similar criticism, the judge who sentenced de Kock to two concurrent life terms as well as 212 years in prison for his other crimes blamed the apartheid system for creating the atmosphere in which de Kock could operate.

Vlakplaas farm

"It was the rotten system that prevailed that allowed him to conduct his activities. That same system enabled him to hide his crimes," Judge Willem van der Merwe said in court.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) called on the white-led National Party to disclose past state secrets. "Now is the time for National Party leader F.W. de Klerk to come clean in the spirit of reconciliation and peace," the ANC said in a statement.

Convicted of six murders

De Kock was convicted in August of six murders of black anti-apartheid activists and scores of lesser crimes, from conspiracy to murder to fraud.

In the 1980s he was in charge of a secret police unit based at Vlakplaas farm, outside Pretoria, where the elimination of troublesome anti-government activists was planned.

He told the court in September, in testimony aimed at reducing the severity of his sentences, that his superiors in the police and government, including then-president P.W. Botha, had full knowledge of what he was doing.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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