TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
APPLICATION IN TERMS OF SECTION 18 OF THE PROMOTION OF NATIONAL UNITY AND RECONCILIATION ACT, NO. 34 OF 1995.
ADRIAAN JOHANNES VLOK 1ST APPLICANT
JOHANNES VELDE VAN DER MERWE 2ND APPLICANT
FREDERICH WILLEM SCHOON 3RD APPLICANT
NICHOLAS GERRIT ERASMUS 4TH APPLICANT
CHARLES ALFRED ZEELIE 5TH APPLICANT
IZAK DANIEL BOSCH 6TH APPLICANT
MARTINUS DAVID RAS 7TH APPLICANT
PETRUS CASPARUS SNYDERS 8TH APPLICANT
PAUL JACOBUS HATTINGH 9TH APPLICANT
WILHELM RIAAN BELLINGAN 10TH APPLICANT
DEON GREYLING 11TH APPLICANT
GEORGE FRANSCOIS HAMMOND 12TH APPLICANT
LARRY JOHN HANTON 13TH APPLICANT
PIERRE LE ROUX 14TH APPLICANT
FRANK McCARTER 15TH APPLICANT
WILLEM ALBERTUS NORTJIE 16TH APPLICANT
DOUW GERBRANDT WILLEMSE 17TH APPLICANT
KIMPANI PETER MOGOAI 18TH APPLICANT
JOHANNES CHRISTOFFEL MEYER 19TH APPLICANT
DAWID JACOBUS BRITS 20TH APPLICANT
EUGENE DE KOCK 21ST APPLICANT
ADRIAN DAVID BAKER 22ND APPLICANT
NICOLAAS JOHANNES VERMEULEN 23RD APPLICANT
Applicants seek amnesty for their participation in the commission of the offences and delicts consequent on the bombing of the building known as Cosatu House. This incident occurred on the 7th May 1987. At the time the building was being used and occupied by the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU). Damage was occasioned to both the building and to items of property that were in the building at the time. The subsequent cover-up of the incident has also been applied for as a separate offence, as set out below.
COSATU was represented at the hearing and having made use of the opportunity to cross-examine the applicants, indicated formally that the organisation was not opposing the granting of amnesty to Eugene de Kock and the officers who had executed the orders he gave as their superior officer. By this the Committee understood that there was no objection to the granting of amnesty to all the relatively junior officers who might be categorised as foot-soldiers who acted as officers of the South African Police in the execution of their duties. The only objection that remained appeared to be then directed at the officers who were senior in status to De Kock and who did not participate in the practical execution of the operation. This would include the then Minister of Law and Order, Adriaan Johannes Vlok.
SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE
Adriaan Johannes Vlok and Johannes Velde van der Merwe, respectively the then Minister of Law and Order and Chief of the Security Branch, testified about the revolutionary climate of the day and the circumstances that led to the decision to damage, by means of explosives Cosatu House. One of the primary factors that focused attention to this particular trade union movement at this time was the transport services strike by workers of the South African Transport Service which took place during the early part of 1987. They testified that four persons who refused to participate in the strike were abducted and taken to Cosatu House where they were tortured. Later the charred remains of three of the abducted persons were discovered at a secluded spot outside Johannesburg.
Evidence at the disposal of Vlok and Van der Merwe indicated that prohibited meetings were held at Cosatu House, activists were accommodated and assisted on those premises and the transport strike with the attendant political violence and intimidation were orchestrated from Cosatu House. The police had attempted to gain access to the premises on the reasonable belief that there were people who were being given refuge in the building and others who were being held against their will. These attempts had, however, been unsuccessful in the main.
Having given the situation much thought, Vlok and Van der Merwe concluded that the only way to counter these activities that were taking place at Cosatu House was to render the building unusable for purposes that promote a revolutionary climate. The intention was to cause an interruption in the logistical support structure of the perpetrators, including members of Cosatu and some of the other tenants of that building by damaging the building. The intention, they testified, was not to endanger lives. In fact, strict instructions were given to units that executed the plan that no person was to be seriously injured or killed in the operation.
Van der Merwe then gave instructions to Willem Frederick Schoon, the head of Unit C1 which, among other things,, was responsible for covert operations by members of the group based at Vlakplaas. Unit C1 (Vlakplaas) was the operational arm of the South African Police in the struggle against the liberation movements. Schoon and De Kock further liaised with Nicholas Gerrit Erasmus who was the divisional commander of the Security Branch, Witwatersrand, because the intended action fell within his jurisdiction.
Erasmus in turn complied with a request from Van der Merwe to provide headquarters with information concerning specifics on the locality, structure and general environs of the targeted building. This and other logistical information was obtained from Deon Greyling who at the time was the security branch officer responsible for the local trade union desk. Greyling passed this information on to De Kock along with other information about the movement of people in and out of the building. Erasmus was well aware of the type of information Greyling was able to provide to De Kock because he received regular reports regarding Cosatu House from him. Greyling's further task on the night of the operation was to assist in keeping members of the public away from Cosatu House while De Kock and his team were there.
Charles Alfred Zeelie was an explosives expert attached to Johannesburg office of the security branch. he inspected the scene of the explosion after the operation. He was part of the technical team sent in after the explosion to do an inspection. He testified that he realised that this explosion could not have been caused by the ANC as speculated by the media on the prompting of the Security Branch. His participation in this incident is limited to the cover-up of the incident in an effort to prevent the truth regarding the perpetrators being publicised.
The participants from Vlakplaas who were involved in this operation were Bosch, Ras, Hatting, Bellingan, Greyling, Hammond, Hanton, Le Roux, McCarter, Nortje, Willemse, Mogoai, Meyer, Brits, Baker and Vermeulen. They were under the direct command of Eugene de Kock and executed the specific tasks allocated to them by De Kock. Their evidence was that De Kock convened a meeting. He explained to them that he had been approached by Security Branch head Office acting on orders from "the top". These orders were that he should assist in an operation namely the bombing of Cosatu house.
Eugene de Kock testified that he had asked where the orders came from and Willem Schoon had confirmed that these came from the then State President, P W Botha. The fact that this was a covert operation was clear to all the Vlakplaas members. It was equally clear to the members that this operation was a political order that came from top ranking political figures and officers thus making it an "official" or duly authorised operation. De Kock, Schoon, Greyling, Meyer and Erasmus then met at Honeydew to discuss the operation. Thereafter, De Kock started making the practical arrangements for the successful execution of the operational These included observing Cosatu House, taking photos of the building, recording video footage, installing a technical surveillance system, using a helicopter to survey the building and so forth.
Schoon provided a hand drawn sketch of the building, Greyling mentioned as a target the newly acquired printing press that had arrived the previous week, equipment for the operation was purchased using funds from a secret fund or from false claims. Various weapons were obtained including AK-47 rifles and Eastern Bloc explosives. De Kock's explanation for using these particular weapons was that the plan was that it should appear that these items had been stored and thus used by the occupants of Cosatu House.
De Kock liaised closely with Bosch, the technical expert and only notified the rest of the team about the operation a short while before the operation commenced. The night before the operation the members of the team met at Vlakplaas for a final check on the logistics, weapons and equipment they would be using. On the night of the operation they set off for the safe house at Honeydew where they were to collect some items and make final arrangements with Erasmus.
At Cosatu House the team took up the allocated positions inside the building. Each member performed his task. Some penetrated the building as set out and directed; others were in control of radio communication; others distracted the guards as planned; whilst others, posing as members of the South African Police, kept members of the public away from the building. The building was severely damaged in the explosion that followed.
The team withdrew to Honeydew once the operation was complete. All weapons and equipment was handed in and De Kock gave Erasmus a verbal report at Honeydew. Mogoai testified that he received R200,00 from De Kock after this operation. De Kock's evidence was that they had a braai after the operation. None of the Black members of the task team were at the braai and the money given to Mogoai must therefore have been for them to have their own braai, de Kock testified. He denied that this was remuneration for services rendered.
Later that year, Vlakplaas operatives testified, Vlok attended a function at Vlakplaas where he congratulated the members for executing the operation successfully.
ANALYSIS OF THE EVIDENCE
The evidence presented by the applicants was essentially of a similar nature with each one setting out in brief the exact nature of his participation and the basis on which he participated in what was clearly an illegal operation.
The most contentious issue was that by De Kock with regard to the origin of the order to bomb Cosatu House. He steadfastly maintained that he was told that the order came right from the top and that President P W Botha gave the order. All his superior officer, including Adriaan Vlok, denied that this was the case. Vlok and Van der Merwe took full responsibility for taking this particular decision and testified that it was only with respect to the bombing of Khotso House that the order came from P W Botha.
During cross-examination it was put to De Kock that in fact Schoon recalled mentioning P W Botha with respect to the Khotso House incident not the Cosatu House one. It was further suggested to De Kock that his own memory might be failing him because of the similarity of the Cosatu House and Khotso House incidents. De Kock's testimony, however, remained unchanged though he added that he would not oppose Vlok and Van der Merwe.
The testimony of what can be termed the senior officers, including Vlok, setting out the reasons why this operation was undertaken can be summarised as follows. The political climate in the country was such that the State apparatus and in particular the State President, Minister of Law and Order, the State Security Council and the Security Branch as the mechanism by which the state sought to exercise control over it's subjects, became more and more repressive. Cosatu, in particular, in promoting workers' rights and thus enhancing the revolutionary atmosphere in the country, was perceived by the State as advancing the cause of the liberation movements. The applicants perceived the country to be in a state or war with these revolutionary forces. Legal means to diffuse the power and effect of Cosatu on the populace had failed. In engaging in this covert illegal operation, it was the applicants' considered opinion that this action was necessary to stem the revolutionary tide. They believed that they were acting in the best interests of the security of the state and of the populace.
The more junior officers, essentially the task team under the leadership of De Kock, believed that they had no choice but to execute the functions allocated to them. They certainly had no intention of disobeying an order from De Kock for fear of the possible repercussions. They had nothing to do with the planning of the operation. Their function was to support the operation which they did. As far as they were concerned, the information given to them concerning the necessity of engaging in this type of convert operation was sufficient in the given circumstances. They did not doubt that their Commanding Officer, De Kock, was given instructions to carry out the operation by, on behalf of and in the interest of the then government. They associated themselves fully with these views and objectives much as they were following orders when they participated in the operation.
The same reasoning is applicable with regards to the applicants who were involved in the cover-up and in misleading the public as to their suspicions regarding the perpetrators of the bombing of Cosatu House.
The Committee has considered all the evidence presented during this hearing and has come to the following conclusion. With regard to the issue of full disclosure of the origin of the order to bomb Cosatu House, the versions of Vlok, Van der Merwe and Schoon denying P W Botha's involvement, as opposed to that of De Kock, remain unresolved. Both versions are plausible and it is difficult for the Committee to determine where the truth lies. It must be born in mind, however, that De Kock's evidence involving Botha was purely hearsay based on the information obtained from Schoon that the order came right from the top. De Kock had never met Botha or personally talked to him. This is a material factor that impacts on whether full disclosure had been made to the Committee in particular by Vlok, Van der Merwe and Schoon.
For purposes of deciding the applications for amnesty, however, all the other material facts indicate all the applicants clearly promoted a political objective acting in their various capacities. No evidence was presented to gainsay that of the applicants with respect to the issue of full disclosure of all the material facts, bar that to of the origin of the order.
In the premises, the Committee is satisfied that all the applicants qualify for amnesty on the basis that they have complied with the material facts prescribed in the Act. The issue of the order to bomb remains undetermined. The Committee, however, does not consider this single issue to be so material as to be a bar to amnesty for any of the applicants.
Amnesty is GRANTED to the applicants in respect of the following offences:-
- the malicious damage to the property known as Cosatu House on the 7th May 1987
- the malicious damage of property inside Cosatu House on the 7th May 1987
- the unlawful possession of arms, ammunition and explosives for the purpose of committing the offences referred to above
- defeating the ends of justice by inter alia covering up the nature and cause of the explosion at Cosatu House.
- any other offence or delict directly or indirectly flowing from the acts and omission to act in respect of the explosion caused at Cosatu House.
SIGNED AT ON THE DAY OF
JUDGE A WILSON
ADV C DE JAGER SC
ADV L GCABASHE
MR J B SIBANYONI