Tak­ing truth to an­other di­men­sion

For­mer apartheid Se­cu­rity Branch cop must be saluted for com­ing clean on his dark past

Pretoria News - - OPINION - SHAN­NON EBRAHIM SIMPHIWE MBOKAZI Ebrahim is the group for­eign ed­i­tor for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia

AS A na­tion we must take care not to for­get the dark things that hap­pened un­der apartheid, and those things that vic­tims saw with their own eyes. These things must not fade from our minds, and we must teach them to our chil­dren and our chil­dren’s chil­dren.

Since the end of the TRC the only for­mer Se­cu­rity Branch po­lice­man who has vol­un­tar­ily of­fered to tell the truth about the hor­rors of the 1980s and early 1990s at John Vorster Square is Paul Eras­mus. In the Ahmed Ti­mol In­quest, we heard Neville Els and Seth Sons claim that they had never been in­volved in the tor­ture of de­tainees, but that they had only heard ru­mours of such things.

Mean­time, the ANC’s ranks are full of ac­tivists who claim that they suf­fered bru­tal in­ter­ro­ga­tion at the hands of these men. At the TRC the se­cu­rity po­lice only of­fered enough in­for­ma­tion to sat­isfy their amnesty claims and noth­ing more.

The foot sol­diers of the apartheid se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus are in­tent on main­tain­ing their laager men­tal­ity and con­spir­acy of si­lence.

Once men have en­tered into their eighth decade, you would think that they would con­sider un­bur­den­ing them­selves by telling the truth be­fore they meet their maker. But one by one they are going to their graves with their se­crets in­tact, de­void of re­morse or guilt for the sadis­tic acts they car­ried out, and cer­tainly with no com­pas­sion for their vic­tims. The only word to de­scribe such men is psy­chopaths.

This week Eras­mus took the stand over two days at the Neil Aggett In­quest and di­vulged a litany of se­crets per­tain­ing to the Se­cu­rity Branch’s op­er­a­tions and crimes. His tes­ti­mony was an at­tempt to set him­self free by telling the truth about what re­ally hap­pened. He did so at po­ten­tially great risk to his own per­sonal se­cu­rity and that of his fam­ily.

He did not try to hide or ex­cuse the crim­i­nal acts that he and his col­leagues at the Se­cu­rity Branch per­pe­trated. Eras­mus ad­mit­ted that at the time he was a com­mit­ted ide­o­logue who be­lieved he was on a mis­sion in de­fence of Chris­tian­ity and against com­mu­nism.

This came from the brain­wash­ing that young white men were taught in po­lice training col­lege, where people of colour were de­picted as in­fe­rior, and the ANC and SACP were char­ac­terised as god­less com­mu­nists.

Eras­mus was con­sid­ered so ef­fec­tive in his covert work by his su­pe­ri­ors in the Se­cu­rity Branch that he re­ceived com­men­da­tions on more than two oc­ca­sions. But in hind­sight he ac­knowl­edged this week in court that the acts they com­mit­ted were de­spi­ca­ble and bizarre, and the Se­cu­rity Branch was noth­ing but a bunch of crim­i­nals from the top down.

But what sets him apart from the rest in the Se­cu­rity Branch is the fact that he has ex­pressed his deep re­gret for the long list of crimes he com­mit­ted, all of which he was given amnesty for at the TRC. He looked at Aggett’s fam­ily sit­ting in the court on Wednesday and apol­o­gised for the role he had played in the pe­riod af­ter Aggett’s death when he and Stephen White­head were tasked by their su­pe­ri­ors to dig up dirt on Aggett in his home town of Gra­ham­stown in order to cre­ate a false case that he had been sui­ci­dal.

White­head had tor­tured Aggett in the days leading up to his death, and ques­tions have arisen as a re­sult of the tes­ti­mony in the in­quest as to whether the tor­ture had gone too far and in fact ended his life. Eras­mus said that White­head ad­mit­ted to him that “he had gone too far in try­ing to make a break­through with Neil Aggett”.

White­head can­not an­swer the ques­tions that should have been put to him this week as he mys­te­ri­ously died in the very week that the state an­nounced the Aggett In­quest.

White­head was the son of a bri­gadier, and his fa­ther-in-law, Den­nis Roth­man, was the deputy head of Boss (Bureau of State Se­cu­rity), which ex­plains his promotion to lieu­tenant when those older than him were still war­rant of­fi­cers.

No ex­pense was spared to en­sure

White­head was not charged with any crime, and that the state could build a case that Aggett had com­mit­ted sui­cide. The Spe­cial Branch even held mock tri­als for days be­fore the Aggett in­quest in 1982 to en­sure White­head was well pre­pared to give the state’s ver­sion of events.

Had Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela been alive to­day there is no doubt she would have been sit­ting in the Aggett In­quest, as she had ap­pre­ci­ated Eras­mus’s hon­esty about the past. She was a great be­liever that the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity had a duty to vic­tims to en­sure that deaths in de­ten­tion were prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated and that those who had not ap­plied for amnesty were pros­e­cuted for their crimes.

Madik­izela-Man­dela had been the tar­get of Eras­mus’s Strat­com dirty tricks in the early 1990s, when his en­tire job had be­come about dis­cred­it­ing her as a hu­man be­ing and free­dom fighter.

One day in 1997, Eras­mus came clean and ad­mit­ted to her over the course of three hours ev­ery­thing he had done to her, which left her sob­bing and in great pain.

But the woman whom the world liked to paint as a bitter hard­liner had such hu­man­ity that she for­gave Eras­mus for his re­lent­less cam­paign to de­stroy her, and even be­friended him in the years to come.

What was most sur­pris­ing was that she took for­give­ness to an­other di­men­sion, and in 1997 pre­sented Eras­mus’s daugh­ter with her wed­ding ring from Madiba. It was her way of show­ing that in the new South Africa, for­give­ness had no bounds. Eras­mus kept photos taken of this oc­ca­sion in her Soweto home, and it has been ver­i­fied by Zindzi Man­dela.

If Madik­izela-Man­dela could have found such depths of for­give­ness, so should we. And if Eras­mus could take truth to such new di­men­sions, then surely other foot sol­diers of one of the most in­hu­mane sys­tems in the world should do the same.

| African News Agency (ANA)

FOR­MER apartheid Spe­cial Branch po­lice­man Paul Eras­mus tes­ti­fies at Dr Neil Agett’s case in Jo­han­nes­burg this week.

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