DURBAN Dec 10 Sapa


Former policeman Brian Mitchell was released from Pietermaritzburg prison on Tuesday afternoon after serving less than five years of a 30-year sentence for his role in killing 11 people in the 1988 Trust Feed massacre.

Mitchell's release followed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's announcement earlier in the day that he had been granted amnesty.

The commission's amnesty committee in a statement said it was satisfied that the Trust Feed killings were associated with a political objective - one of the basic requirements for amnesty.

Mitchell left the prison with his ex-wife, Karen, through a back entrance, apparently to avoid reporters waiting for him.

Mitchell and his lawyer Eugene Nysschen were informed of the decision by the commission on Monday, but it was only made public on Tuesday.

Nysschen said Mitchell had made no immediate plans and wished to spend some time out of the public eye.

In a message through his lawyer, Mitchell said by granting him amnesty, the Truth Commission had proven its bona fides.

Mitchell also called on all former security force members who had committed atrocities with a political motive under the former apartheid government to apply for amnesty before the deadline on Saturday.

Mitchell is the fourth person and the first former security force member to be granted amnesty by the Truth Commission's amnesty committee.

The committee's statement said: "(The) applicant's offences were part of the counter-revolutionary onslaught against the African National Congress and United Democratic Front activists and (he acted) within the course and scope of his duties as an officer in the South African Police force," the committee said.

Mitchell, former commander of New Hanover police station, was sentenced to death in April 1992 on eleven counts of murder and to imprisonment for three years on each of two counts of attempted murder.

The death sentence was commuted to imprisonment in April this year.

Sketching the background to the killings, the committee said UDF activists had sparked violence in the New Hanover area in October 1988 by attacking Inkatha youth.

Mitchell, who had close links with the Joint Management Committee system - the then government's counter revolutionary mechanism - had considered it his duty to counter the UDF/ANC in his area.

It was decided in talks with a superior officer and Inkatha leaders that special constables would assist in an attack on UDF activists in the Trust Feed area, targeting males between 16 and 35 years who were involved in political violence.

The constables launched the attack on house TF83 in the early hours of December 3, killing 11 people and wounding two others.

"Applicant was not at the scene and did not take part in the actual attack, but it is quite clear that the execution of the whole plan was directed by him in his capacity as the station commander of the area," the committee said.

"It is also clear that the special constables acted on his instructions and were accountable to him."

Shortly after the incident it was discovered that the constables attacked the wrong house and that the people who were killed and injured were not the intended victims.

"Thereafter frantic and feverish attempts were made by some of applicant's superiors in the police force to cover up this colossal blunder. But as it turned out, these attempts did not succeed and applicant and the four special constables were brought to justice."

The committee noted that the constables who were convicted with Mitchell were granted amnesty and released under the 1992 Further Indemnity Act.

It said it was granting Mitchell amnesty for the murders of Mseleni Ntuli, Dudu Shangase, Zetha Shangase, Nkoyeni Shangase, Muzi Shangase, Filda Ntuli, Fikile Zondi, Maritz Xaba, Sara Nyoka, Alfred Zita and Sisedewu Sithole.

Mitchell would also get amnesty for the attempted murder of Ida Hadebe and Nomagoli Zuli, and for arson relating to the burning of the home of a Mr Mbongwe.

The committee released a letter from attorneys acting for massacre victims and relatives, saying that most claims against the State for compensation had already been settled, and a few were being finalised.

The ANC in a statement said it accepted the committee's decision to grant Mitchell amnesty.

However, the ANC said it hoped the Truth Commission would at the end of its work find that Mitchell and others like him had committed crimes against humanity and were responsible for gross human rights violations.

In this context the ANC hoped the commission would present concrete proposals for reparation for the victims of these crimes to help heal the wounds of the past.

South African Press Association, 1996
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