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Apartheid-Era Minister Pleads Guilty of Attempted Murder


South Africa's former Law and Order Minister, Commissioner of Police and three former police officers have received suspended sentences after pleading guilty in a Pretoria court to the attempted murder of a leading anti-apartheid activist in 1989. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.

Apartheid-era Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok, and former police commissioner, Johan van der Merwe, were given suspended ten-year sentences. The others received suspended five-year sentences from the court.

Under a plea bargain, all five admitted trying to kill prominent black activist Frank Chikane in 1989 by lacing his underwear with a nerve toxin.

Chikane, currently director in President Thabo Mbeki's office, was present in court.

Chikane last year forgave Vlok but said later that forgiveness cannot be a substitute for justice. Chikane forgave Vlok after he arrived at Chikane's office and insisted on washing Chikane's feet in an act of contrition. Vlok later did the same for the widows and mothers of a group of ten young men lured to their deaths by a self-confessed state assassin in 1986.

Outside court, Chikane said he is pleased that the case is over and that he can move forward. He added he hoped this case can be used as a model for resolving other outstanding apartheid era cases and urged other perpetrators to come forward.

The National Prosecuting Authority said that in terms of the plea bargain the five men agreed to testify in the future in other apartheid crime cases.

Vlok was minister of law and order for three years until 1989, a period of some of the worst oppression of the apartheid era. At least thirty thousand people were detained without trial, there were numerous disappearances, and many more died in jail and in police custody. He seemed relieved the case was over.

"Thank you for your support. Thank you for your prayers and if you look at the way ahead in this country, I just want to say obey the lord and he will heal our land," he said. "Thank you very much."

But others were less pleased. Lenning Makiwane of the Khulumani Support Group for victims said it is clear the case has not resulted in full disclosure by Vlok.

"The trial [was unfair] to us, there [was] something that maybe worked behind some doors, maybe under the table . . . so we will not feel OK, because there is evidence they did bad things to people," said Makinwane. "There is more evidence, everyone knows what those guys did."

The Afrikaner rights group Afriforum said they were pleased no one went to jail Friday, but said leaders of the liberation movements, such as the ruling African National Congress, should now come forward and take responsibility for crimes committed by their members.

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