Clive Derby-Lewis has left his mark on South African history in the way that assassins of important political figures have done through the ages.
Chris Hani would’ve played an enormous role in the shaping of post-apartheid society had he not been gunned down outside his Boksburg home on April 10, 1993 by Derby-Lewis’s accomplice, Janusz Walus.
The tragedy threatened to ignite the volatile situation in the country at the time. Leaders appealed for calm as angry mobs went on the rampage in places and white rightwingers mustered forces.
The plot to kill Hani was inspired by his charisma and his popular appeal that saw him catapulted into the position of SACP general secretary after the impression he made as an Umkhonto weSizwe commander whose criticism of corrupt superiors nearly got him executed. It was also why speculation was rife during the assassination trial, and after, that there was a deeper, more sinister conspiracy behind it all. This could never be proved.
What was determined was that the assassination was inspired by profound racist and anti-communist sentiments on Derby-Lewis’s part. This came out particularly strongly when, after having had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment when capital punishment was abolished in 1995, he applied for amnesty by trying to persuade the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of the political nature of his actions.
He argued that he acted “in defence of my people, who were threatened with a communist takeover”.
Central to his action, he pleaded, was his Christian faith within the Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk, which he joined in the late 1980s. The church was formed by members of Andries Treurnicht’s Conservative Party, which broke away from the National Party in 1982. They objected to the Dutch Reformed Church, as the dominant Afrikaans church, following the ruling party’s shift away from apartheid by finally conceding that racial segregation could not be biblically justified.
He told the TRC: “As a Christian, my first duty is to the Almighty God before everything else. We were fighting against communism, and communism is the vehicle of the Antichrist.”
The application by him and Walus, a Polish immigrant who harboured profound anti-communist feelings, was denied, as was their subsequent appeal to the Western Cape High Court to overturn the TRC’s decision.
In 2003, Derby-Lewis applied for a presidential pardon but failed. He also failed when, on turning 65 in 2008, he applied for parole in terms of the section of the Correctional Services Act which provides that a person sentenced to life imprisonment may be placed on parole on reaching the age of 65 if he had served 15 years of such sentence.
Much of Derby-Lewis’s political career was marked by his staunch support for apartheid and his right-wing activism. He proclaimed himself to be an Afrikaner of German and Scottish stock.
He was born in Cape Town on January 22, 1936. He attended Christian Brothers College and became a minister at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Joburg before he left the Catholic Church in the early 1980s because of its anti-racist stance.
His political career started in 1972 when he became a town councillor for Bedfordview, and the same year got elected to the Transvaal Provincial Council as the National Party member representing the Edenvale constituency. He became Bedfordview’s deputy mayor the next year, and from 1974 to 1975 served as its mayor. In the provincial council he became his party’s spokesperson on education and hospital services.
He joined in establishing the Conservative Party in 1982 and became one of its leading members. He was its candidate for election to Parliament in the Krugersdorp constituency but failed.
The esteem in which he was held by his party colleagues was borne out when they got him into Parliament as a nominated member and later a member of the President’s Council. He quickly got noted for his fanatical views. His crude racism came to the fore when he once told Parliament that “if Aids stops black population growth, it will be like Father Christmas”.
His party decided to make him their spokesperson on less ideological matters like economic affairs, technology and mineral affairs.
He was a volunteer in the South African Citizen Force, became commanding officer of the Witwatersrand Rifles Regiment, and was awarded the John Chard Medal for long and meritorious service.
He joined the London-based Western Goals Institute as an honorary vice-president, and was one of their delegation to the 22nd World Anti-Communist League Conference in Brussels in 1990.
The institute is described by Wikipedia as a conservative pressure group in Britain. Its stated intent was anti-communism, although the group was also known for its opposition to non-white immigration into Europe and Britain.
In June 2010, Derby-Lewis again applied for parole. By then, he was reported to have fallen seriously ill with prostate cancer, high blood pressure and a gangrenous leg.