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Former South African Government Minister Charged with Apartheid Crimes


South Africa's former Law and Order Minister, Commissioner of Police and three former police officers will appear in court Friday on charges of the attempted murder of a leading anti-apartheid activist in 1989. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.

While on a visit to the United States in 1989, leading anti-apartheid activist and pastor Frank Chikane became critically ill with a condition that puzzled U.S. practitioners. Their investigations led to a shocking discovery - the clothing Chikane had brought with him was laced with a deadly organo-phosphate that brought him to the brink of death.

Eighteen years later, having failed to disclose his role in the attempt on Chikane's life when he sought amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok is expected to plead guilty to charges of attempted murder in a Pretoria court. Doing the same will be former apartheid-era police commissioner, Johan van der Merwe and three others.

This will be the second case brought against individuals who failed to seek amnesty for apartheid crimes at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and also represents the first case brought against such high-ranking individuals. The first case was never concluded because the accused died.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Vice Chairperson Alex Boraine told VOA he believes such prosecutions should proceed, despite the lapse in time since the commission concluded its work in 2001.

"Yes, I do for the reason that in terms of international law victims now, it is established that they have the right to know what happened to their loved ones, where the bodies were buried and so on," he said.

The decision to prosecute Vlok and the others has prompted a heated debate in South Africa with some in the white community calling it a witchhunt. But victims rights group Khulumani says it is does not represent justice because the current guidelines for prosecuting such cases are too lenient.

Boraine says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission represented what is known as restorative justice that allowed perpetrators to win amnesty from prosecution based on certain conditions, including full disclosure during a limited period. But he says, that time has now passed in South Africa and that normal, retributive justice, cannot be suspended any longer.

"But now they are going to at least have a hearing in an open court, it is not behind closed doors," he said. "It enables more of the truth to emerge. And I have appealed to Vlok, personally and publicly, to really come clean so we do not go on and on and on having these things popping up and causing real stress and strain on the whole social fabric of South Africa."

The National Prosecuting Authority, tasked with prosecuting apartheid crimes, earlier told VOA they will be prosecuting individuals from all sides of the apartheid conflict. But, the authority cautioned that such cases are likely to be few because of the lapse of time, as well as a lack of witnesses and crucial documentary proof.

Boraine notes that in the waning years of apartheid the government destroyed hundreds of tons of apartheid-era records.

"Under [former President F.W.] de Klerk's watch so many of these documents were destroyed and we couldn't get hold of a lot of stuff that would have been a huge help to us," he said. "They, as you know they hired factory furnaces to burn during those four years of negotiations. And so that was a major problem for us."

It is widely expected that Vlok and the others will enter into a plea bargain and may avoid jail time.

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