by Shain Germaner and Zelda Venter
Johannesburg - The death of Clive Derby-Lewis – the man who orchestrated the assassination of SACP leader and freedom hero Chris Hani 33 years ago – has been received with mixed emotions.
Derby-Lewis died at about lunchtime in Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria, 16 months after he was released from prison on medical parole. He died from cancer, which spread throughout his body, his family said. He was 80.
Hani’s murder in April 1993 almost plunged South Africa into civil war, and it took Nelson Mandela, the ANC president at the time, to make an impassioned plea for calm.
Derby-Lewis was convicted in October 1993, along with Polish immigrant and triggerman Janusz Walus, of conspiracy to commit murder.
Despite spending 22 years in prison, Derby-Lewis remained in the headlines in recent years as he frequently applied for parole.
Last year, Justice Minister Michael Masutha turned down his latest application for medical parole, finding that he wasn't terminally ill.
However, in a judgment on May 29, Judge Selby Baqwa of the high court in Pretoria set aside Masutha’s original decision, allowing Derby-Lewis to return home to his wife Gaye after spending 22 years in the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre in Pretoria.
Hani’s widow Limpho declined to comment on Thursday.
While Derby-Lewis’s family described him as a good man, some political parties were divided in their views about his death.
The SACP expressed its condolences to the family, but the party said it was “deeply concerned that he died without revealing the truth about Hani’s murder.
“This leaves an indelible pain in the family of Chris Hani and in the SACP. We would've wished that he could have, while lying on his deathbed, reflected on the pain he caused and expressed humility by telling the truth,” said SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila.
The SACP had, upon Derby-Lewis’s release last year, said it was horrified about the decision, saying the judge had been overzealous and was stepping out of the bounds of his jurisdiction.
The Freedom Front Plus said his death had vindicated its stance that the government was practising double standards in releasing convicts on medical parole. The party cited the case of President Jacob Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.
“Derby-Lewis’s death has proved that the awarding of medical parole in his case was justified – in contrast to that of Schabir Shaik, who, after receiving parole nearly eight years ago (on March 3, 2009) due to a terminal illness, is still playing golf. Shaik served only 28 months of a sentence of 15 years,” the FF+ said.
Derby-Lewis’s widow Gaye said she was shattered by her husband’s death, describing him as a good and popular man.
“It’s a dreadful story. We never expected him to pass away so soon. But at least he is now free.”
Gaye had been at her husband’s side since he was at first given the death sentence for Hani’s murder and supported him when his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
She said her husband did fine under the circumstances, suffering from cancer for many years. His condition deteriorated after he underwent an operation to try to stop the cancer at the beginning of last month. It started as lung cancer. He suffered an infection after the operation and the cancer continued to spread.
“Last night (Wednesday) he was bright and cheery. His eyes were shining, as if he knew he was going somewhere. He took my hand and said something which I cannot repeat,” an emotional Gaye said.
She told the Daily News’s sister paper, the Pretoria News, that when she went to hospital on Thursday morning, he was on life support. His son had arrived from Cape Town and they sat with him until the end.
“I looked at his body and wondered where his soul had gone. But the fist thing which occurred to me was that he was a Christian.”
Gaye said Derby-Lewis was happy in the past year-and-a-half when he was released from prison.
“He couldn't go anywhere as he was under house arrest, but he enjoyed the garden. People came to visit him as he could go nowhere. He was a popular man, everyone liked him, both in prison and at hospital. It is just awful that he is gone. He was a good man.”
“Let’s just remember him as the good-looking man he was," she said, explaining that she never took photographs of him since his release.
Gaye said his funeral was expected to take place on Wednesday and the details would be released later.