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Prime Evil in a War of Bigotry : S. African ex-policeman's crimes can never be justified

September 23, 1996

There is no defense for the bombings and murders that were carried out for decades in South Africa to shore up white supremacy and oppress the black majority.

A former police colonel and convicted murderer, Eugene de Kock, insisted during his recent pre-sentencing hearing that he was only doing his job. He implicated former presidents and other leaders of the white regimes in South Africa, accusing them of approving his dirty work. Even if that is proven, there can never be an excuse for the campaign of terror waged by his infamous police counterinsurgency squad.

How could government leaders not know, as they now claim? They paid the bill for the secret hit squads that killed, bombed and burned until they were finally disbanded in 1993--after Nelson Mandela had been freed from prison and the racially divided nation was progressing from apartheid to democracy.

At home and abroad, the death squads waged war to perpetuate white rule. De Kock, 47, the most notorious assassin, was involved in the bombing of the African National Congress office in London in 1982 with explosives smuggled into Britain via diplomatic pouch from South Africa. In Johannesburg, he led teams that bombed the offices of the South African Council of Churches, injuring 23 people. De Kock and his men also blasted the headquarters of the black trade union movement, and in Pretoria they torched a building used by the South African Bishops Conference; inside, nuns were sleeping.

No target was sacred, not children, no one. De Kock's colleagues called him "Prime Evil," a fitting nom de guerre. He personally executed or ordered the assassination of dozens of people.

Wounds left by apartheid run deep in the social fabric of the new South Africa. That De Kock, who faces the possibility of a life sentence, was convicted on 89 charges including six murders is a sign of dramatic progress. After he was convicted, the assassin told the court that at times he wished he had never been born. So do the families of his victims.

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