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Johannesburg - Born in 1949, Eugene Alexander de Kock grew up in a family whose head, a magistrate, was an enthusiastic member of the Afrikaner secret society, the Broederbond, and a personal friend of South Africa’s former Nazi prime minister John Vorster.
Initially attempting to go into service with the South African Defence Force on finishing school, De Kock was disqualified on the basis of a stutter, and instead joined the police.
Even then, though, his difficulties were not yet behind him.
Applying to join the South African Police’s Special Task Force, he was again rejected, this time because of his poor eyesight, in the end making his mark only after taking a posting to then Rhodesia and co-founding the soon-to-be-notorious but, militarily, highly effective Koevoet counter-insurgency unit.
Then in 1983 De Kock’s destiny came into somewhat sharper focus with his transfer to the highly secret C10 unit, also nominally geared to counter insurgency, based at the farm Vlakplaas outside Pretoria.
Here he joined then-Vlakplaas chief Dirk Coetzee in commanding and co-ordinating turned resistance fighters – the so-called askaris – in covert actions, including assassinations, against identified targets in the ANC and other liberation organisations.
Shortly thereafter – when a Coetzee-commanded attempted kidnapping in Swaziland went awry, and he was removed from the position – De Kock became commander of the Vlakplaas death squads.
By the time of his eventual arrest, in 1994, De Kock and his askaris had embarked on a reign of covert terror of sufficient dimensions for him to be charged with several murders, and convicted on 89 criminal counts in all.
He was sentenced in 1996 to two life sentences, together with 212 years in prison.
Though much of the often sickening detail of De Kock’s career in ideologically sanctioned crime had already been reported in the media, largely through the efforts of journalist Jacques Pauw, his testimony before the TRC – commended for its unsparing candour – proved key to the report that body compiled, securing him amnesty on several counts, and leaving him serving time for only those crimes that could not be justified as being politically motivated.
To date, De Kock has spent more than 19 years in prison, serving nearly 18 of those as a convict and by South African law – which does not accommodate exceptions on the basis of public sentiment – is eligible for parole.
In November 2013, the parole board acknowledged this and referred it to the minster of correctional services for administrative approval.
De Kock’s legal representative, Julian Knight, recently secured a court order compelling new Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha to deal with the matter by Thursday.