In one of the most charged cases in South Africa’s struggle to overcome its apartheid past, authorities Thursday postponed a decision on whether to parole Eugene de Kock, a convicted death-squad leader widely known as “Prime Evil.”
The case threw into relief the tangled issues surrounding the country’s long-running efforts to balance justice and reconciliation - the same issues that consumed years of post-apartheid hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s.
De Kock, 65, was arrested in 1994, and given an array of charges from murder to kidnapping related to his time as commander of a notorious unit based at the Vlakplaas farm near Pretoria. The site became synonymous with the killing and torture of suspects in an underground war against black activists.
But he also testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after his conviction in 1996 on 89 charges including murder and fraud that earned him a sentence of two life terms plus 212 years.
The commission granted amnesty to perpetrators who were deemed to have shown remorse for and told the truth about actions committed for political reasons in the conflict between the apartheid authorities and their foes. De Kock was pardoned for some crimes - such as his part in blowing up a church headquarters in Johannesburg in 1988 - but not for others.
South Africa’s justice minister, Michael Masutha, told reporters on Thursday that the law required the families of de Kock’s victims to be consulted about parole before it was granted, South African and international news media reported.
“It is fair and in the interests of the victims and the broader community that the families of the victims are afforded the opportunity to participate in the parole consideration process of the offender,” Masutha said, ordering that the case could be reviewed within a year.
De Kock’s lawyer disputed the ruling and said he would challenge it.
De Kock, a former police colonel, sought parole on the grounds that no other member of the apartheid-era police force has been sentenced.
“Not one of the previous generals, or ministers who were in Cabinet up to 1990, have been prosecuted at all,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying in an affidavit in January.
He also argued that he was acting on the orders of his superiors.
In posts online, responses to the ruling showed the long shadow of racial division, with some saying they heartily approved the decision to keep de Kock behind bars while others said the ruling showed the unevenness of a justice system that punished him but not his white superiors or his black adversaries.