What became of the big Wit Wolf?


Barend Strydom's leg irons clanked as he moved his ankles together, clasping his hands firmly in front of him. He glanced up at the light filtering through the stained-glass windows between the pillars of the Palace of Justice high above the tableau.

Judge Louis Harms cleared his throat and stacked his papers neatly in front of him. He eased forward in his chair, drawing his red cloak around him. The packed courtroom was absolutely silent.

"I must now move on to sentence you, and it is a very difficult task," the judge began. " before I get started, I want to thank Mr Simon Mukondeleli for the fact that he prevented further murders." A hero, Mukondeleli nodded from the gallery. He felt his heart racing as he looked across at the accused. "He was prepared to fearlessly confront and disarm you."

The accused - who had raised his glass of water to journalists in the moments before the court proceedings began, saying "I drink on the death sentence" - stared ahead, sombre. There was the rustle of a large white bonnet from the public gallery where a woman in Voortrekker dress sat among those, black and white, without a breath between them.

"If the sentence creates the impression that I want you kept permanently out of society, then that impression is correct," the judge spoke in a strong voice. "There is no hope of rehabilitation for you. You have no remorse and you would happily repeat what you have done.

"Your crimes were barbaric, the consequences indescribable. It was premeditated and carried out without feeling. In the interests of the community, you should be removed. You remain a danger."

Judge Harms - who said Strydom was worse than a terrorist as he had looked into the faces of his victims before he killed them - didn't take long to hand down sentence.

Thirty years in prison for the attempted murder of 25 black people and the pointing of a firearm, and the gallows for the murders of eight, also all black.

Strydom, who had called himself the Wit Wolf, dipped his chin and took a sip of water. There was not a whisper from the benches. Very quickly, the prison warders stepped up to sweep him out of court.

Outside the Palace of Justice, apartheid's riot police shuffled closer together as the crowd swelled.

There was weeping for those who had lost their lives - exactly 20 years ago today- when a camouflage-clad Strydom opened fire on whoever was black within his sights over five blocks of the capital city.

The shock and terror of that moment reverberated around the world. The detectives who attended the scene still regard it as one of the more horrifying of their lives. The judge still deeply regrets the outcome. The hero has died.

Strydom still believes he was on a mission to attack the enemy. His God had ordered blood and, as a Boer warrior, he had delivered it. Upon capture, he was a prisoner of war. So surely today, Strydom will again be sanctified by the right wing, its acolytes the people who had bayed for more outside the courtoom in May 1989 when he was sentenced. To them, he is the crocus of a white spring, the fulfilment of Isaiah 30:17: "One thousand of you will take flight before the war cry of a single man."

"As we speak, I'm pulling onions out of the ground," Strydom said this week with a light laugh, apologising for his "bad manners" at not having returned the call when he was first requested for an interview. He was at home on a smallholding near Brits, outside Pretoria, "loving the rain, enjoying it here peacefully in my vegetable garden".

"I apologise," he said. "It's just that it's difficult for me to talk to you at this very moment. I don't want to say anything this week. You know on Saturday, it's 20 years since I killed all those people on Strijdom Square.."

Strydom was a lucky man. Unlike his victims, he has been able to experience a full life, marriage and fatherhood for the past 16 years.

On leaving prison, where he had risen to be a locksmith in the workshop, he was already married to the adoring rightwinger Karin Rautenbach, "a jewel of a Boere girl with lips sweeter than honey, your angel eyes a feast".

They sold their story exclusively, allegedly for R25 000, to Rapport. In that interview he spoke of how "I will so enjoy holding our first baby". He promised never again to commit an act of violence.

Strydom sells goods openly at a Brits market on the weekend. He writes, as he did in prison when he completed a book of short stories. Even when he was given the death sentence, there was little doubt that he would escape the noose, as the National Party government under FW de Klerk had suspended all executions.

Judge Harms had expected the killer would remain locked up for the rest of his life, but that was not to be, and the judge has never quite been able to come to terms with the ultimate outcome.

Within four years of being sentenced to death, the Wit Wolf was released under what was effectively a prisoner exchange between the National Party and the ANC with Umkhonto weSizwe cadre Robert McBride, whose 1986 car bomb had killed three women at Magoo's Bar in Durban.

The men left prison on the same day in September 1992.

Judge Harms said this week he had had to "remove himself emotionally" from the ex-policeman's chilling fundamentalism, "which is still baffling".

Strydom would not accept that blacks are people, and therefore the biblical injunction "Thou shalt not kill" did not apply to their deaths. He would not co-operate with the proceedings of the Pretoria Magistrate's Court when he was first brought to face charges "until all the k*****s are removed" from the room.

The slain innocents included 88-year-old Priscilla Motau, murdered as she sat outside City Sounds and Jazz Bar, trying to make a meagre living selling sweets.

City council street cleaner Geelbooi Mabena, a father-of-three, would be disabled and die a few years later as a result of his injuries. Thirty-three families would be irrevocably damaged. A stain would forever remain on the square.

Strydom was besotted with another man's wife on the day he parked his blue Mazda 323 outside the State Theatre in Prinsloo Street.

Having taken a sacred vow at the Voor-trekker Monument in the early morning,

he had then declared his intentions with pretty Mariana Beukes to her husband Gerhardus on the morning of the murders. An hour before he put money in the meter before going on the rampage, he had delivered a parcel of documents and a love letter in an exercise book to her workplace. An apologetic letter to his parents declared that his actions were "the first shots in the Third War of Independence".

Strydom had written the letters in his tiny room in Tamarisk Flats in Pretoria West, its only decoration a blue porcelain dog and a clock. That was also where he had laid out his camouflage and belt inscribed with the words "Wit Wolwe", and counted the hundreds of bullets for his 9mm Parabellum Beretta pistol.

He had worn this uniform before, just seven days earlier, when he had driven at night to a familiar place - the squatter camp on Weilers Farm in De Deur, south of Joburg.

The year before, Strydom had been relieved of his duties as a policeman in that area after he had attended to a car accident where a black man had been decapitated, had a photograph taken with the head and demanded it be published in the police magazine Servamus with a warning to the ANC.

Weilers Farm was the site of protests against removals to nearby Orange Farm at the time, and Strydom - who had earlier spoken of his distaste at seeing the corpse of a white nurse, killed during demonstrations in Duduza on the East Rand - was choked with hate.

On the night of November 8 he hammered on a shack belonging to Lizabeth Tsotetsi and demanded to know who lived there. Then he forced Tsotetsi and her friend, Martha Motsekili, to lie down on their abdomens and shot them. He killed Motsekili, but Tsotetsi - who is now untraceable - managed to escape, bolted over a barbed wire fence and hid in a dog kennel until Strydom left.

Strydom would say this was a practice run "to see if I felt revulsion at shooting someone". He did not.

Retired senior police investigator Suiker Britz recalled this week "how unreal" it had felt for him as a detective to enter the five blocks of horror in Pretoria where there was "just one body after the other" on November 15. There were thick dark pools and trails of blood everywhere.

"We were all in shock. And the thing was that he had a lot of bravado. In other cases, you can sit with the accused for a long time, trying to make them speak. Strydom just said proudly 'I've done this'. He should have been hanged."

The Wit Wolf this week admitted he would prefer to be living in Orania, but that he was happy in South Africa, where his two children are growing up.

"I would never think of leaving. There are so many directions for me to take."


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