MUR­DER most foul?

A film doc­u­ment­ing the life of slain strug­gle ac­tivist Ash­ley Kriel is up for re­lease as his cold case is be­ing re­opened by the Hawks

CityPress - - News - BIÉNNE HUISMAN bi­enne.huisman@city­press.co.za

Nearly 30 years af­ter his death at a blood­ied house in Cape Town’s Athlone, the Hawks have re­opened the cold case file into how strug­gle hero Ash­ley Kriel died at the hands of apartheid po­lice tor­turer Jef­frey Ben­zien.

In 1999, Ben­zien was granted full amnesty for killing Kriel, but Kriel’s fam­ily ap­proached the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity to re­open the case this year af­ter a new doc­u­men­tary on Kriel’s life, called Ac­tion Kom­man­dant: The Un­told Story of a Guer­rilla, ap­par­ently brought fresh ev­i­dence to light.

This week, Hawks spokesper­son Bri­gadier Hang­wani Mu­laudzi con­firmed that the prose­cut­ing au­thor­ity had as­signed them “to lo­cate the docket and get fresh in­for­ma­tion, if avail­able”.

At Kriel’s death in­quest at the Wyn­berg Mag­is­trates’ Court in 1987, Ben­zien tes­ti­fied that the young man had died in a scuf­fle.

At the time, foren­sic sci­en­tist David Klat­zow tes­ti­fied that po­lice were cov­er­ing up a mur­der, as Kriel had clearly been shot in the back, from a dis­tance.

This week, Mu­laudzi con­firmed that a Hawks in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer con­tacted Klat­zow for new ev­i­dence last month, but they were still wait­ing to re­ceive in­for­ma­tion.

Mean­while, Klat­zow showed City Press an old, leather­bound book with pages of scrawled notes about Kriel’s death, plus pho­tos of his dead body and copies of doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing a po­lice au­topsy re­port, which is con­spic­u­ously de­void of de­tail.

Records com­piled by the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) re­late how Ben­zien, then a mem­ber of the SA Po­lice’s now de­funct ter­ror­ist de­tec­tion unit – and a col­league called Con­sta­ble Ables – ar­rived at Kriel’s house in Athlone dis­guised as mu­nic­i­pal em­ploy­ees pre­tend­ing to check the sew­er­age, when a scuf­fle en­sued.

“Kriel sud­denly stood up, but Ben­zien held him from be­hind with the pis­tol still in his hand. Then a shot went off and Kriel fell to the ground. He had been wounded and blood came out of his mouth and nose. Ables hand­cuffed Kriel. Ben­zien went to his ve­hi­cle and ra­dioed for help. When Ben­zien re­turned, he found that Kriel was dead,” reads the doc­u­ment. “Ben­zien main­tained that their in­ten­tion was to ar­rest Kriel and not to kill him. He said that the shoot­ing was ac­ci­den­tal,” ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment. Ben­zien’s “wet bag method” made head­lines in­ter­na­tion­ally when he demon­strated it at TRC hear­ings in 1997. It in­volved a cloth be­ing placed over the heads of vic­tims, which took them to the brink of as­phyx­i­a­tion (suf­fo­ca­tion from lack of oxy­gen), re­peat­edly. He also used this method on ANC leader Tony Yen­geni, who con­fronted him at the TRC hear­ings. Now 70, the re­tired se­cu­rity of­fi­cer lives in Cape Town’s north­ern sub­urbs with his wife. Sev­eral tele­phonic and emailed ef­forts to con­tact him via of­fi­cial SA Po­lice Ser­vice spokes­peo­ple were un­suc­cess­ful. He has not spo­ken to the me­dia since the TRC hear­ings. Kriel was a pop­u­lar emerg­ing Umkhonto weSizwe leader when he was killed at the age of 20. Kriel’s older sis­ter, Michel As­sure – who iden­ti­fied his body at the Salt River Mor­tu­ary in 1987 – told City Press that the TRC had failed them. “There was blood on the floor, splat­tered on the walls, on clothes. How did all that blood get there? It has been dif­fi­cult to deal with all the hurt and the anger.” As­sure says Ben­zien ex­tended his hand to her af­ter the TRC hear­ings, but she could not take it. “I would not take his hand, and I still feel the same way. My ex­pe­ri­ence is, he was putting on a show. I am a Chris­tian and the Bible teaches us not to judge peo­ple, but he is a cruel and de­vi­ous man.” Nel­son Man­dela lauded Kriel for his con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against apartheid in a speech upon the for­mer’s re­lease from prison in 1990. The new doc­u­men­tary on Kriel’s life will be screened at the En­coun­ters SA In­ter­na­tional Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val in June.

PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES

HOR­ROR Jef­frey Ben­zien, the no­to­ri­ous for­mer apartheid Spe­cial Branch po­lice­man, demon­strates ‘the wet bag’ tor­ture tech­nique at a TRC hear­ing in Cape Town

RE­MEM­BERED Ash­ley Kriel

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