The death of author Mark Minnie may have elevated interest in his book tenfold. It has also drawn widespread suspicion of foul play that is, ironically, an amplified echo of the strange circumstances surrounding the “suicide” of two key characters in "The Lost Boys of Bird Island."
Minnie was found with a bullet wound to the head, and a firearm near his body, a near replica of the deaths of Dave Allen, the first of the Bird Island paedophile ring to “sing” after being found in possession of pornography and arrested for statutory rape, and John Wiley, then minister of environmental affairs and tourism, found on his bed and shot through the temple.
But let’s start at the beginning.
As part of an international probe into child-sex and pornography, a computer engineer was arrested in 2015, causing an inquiry that eventually brought this book.
In the foreword, Marianne Thamm says previous exposures in South Africa seldom made headlines, because of the secrecy of the crimes, and because the predatory adults were often in powerful or respected positions. In 1986/87 an allegation against three Cabinet ministers suspected of abusing boys briefly surfaced, then disappeared.
At that time there was vicious intimidation of journalists, editors and political opponents, and also political assassinations by death squads. Conversely, disinformation could be used to discredit government officials. The authors, former narcotics detective Mark Minnie and investigative journalist Chris Steyn, spent much time investigating the case independently of each other. Thirty years later, their narratives have been brought together – by the publisher Tafelberg - in this explosive expose.
The pair convincingly claim they have finally ripped the veil off the horrendous story of official complicity in the criminal abuse, rape and possible murder of children, mainly black and drug-dependent , who were frequently taken to Bird Island off Port Elizabeth by helicopter (sometimes military) to “entertain” men of power.
Minnie tells his story first in direct, salty language, and includes incidents from his tough personal life in Port Elizabeth, including having been raped by two teens as a boy – possibly explaining his tenacity in pursuing perpetrators. An agitated boy tells Minnie his brother is in hospital with internal injuries suffered in a sexual assault.
Investigation reveals that boys, addicted to alcohol and dagga, hang around venues popular with paedophiles. Then follows the sensational information that boys are flown to Bird Island by helicopter to pleasure men of obvious wealth or connections. It transpires that one particularly sadistic man is known to the boys as ‘Ore’, because of his prominent ears, and Minnie dubs him ‘Wingnut’.
The boys identify “Uncle” Dave Allen, charismatic Bird Island guano concession millionaire, deep sea diver and police reservist. A search of Allen’s home by Minnie reveals a hidden compartment in a cupboard, packed with child pornography. Arrested for statutory rape, he confesses. Not wishing to take the blame alone, he names three cabinet ministers – “one the second most powerful man in the country”.
But before he can turn state witness, he is found shot in the forehead. There are no powder burns. Steyn then writes that Minister of Environmental Affairs John Wiley, who for 10 years had a close relationship with Allen, is shortly afterwards an apparent shooting suicide. The death room must have been locked from the outside, as the key was missing, and notes had been hurriedly burned in the driveway.
A National Party source told Steyn that Wiley had faced blackmail several times because of his sexual orientation, and Allen had also been blackmailed. The case was muddied further when a military counter-intelligence source told Steyn that the Minister of Defence and head of the all-powerful Security Council, Magnus Malan, was the first person to enter Wiley’s room after the suicide. A close friend of Wiley for many years, Malan personally “swept” the house, then left with two boxes of effects.
A blatant cover-up by a senior State prosecutor quashes Minnie’s investigation by ordering that it be shelved, and Steyn’s piece on Wiley is virtually spiked by The Cape Times.
By now, Minnie has uncovered the infamous incident of the boy who was shot in the anus. He had been delivered by military helicopter to a whites-only hospital by three men in suits. No hospital records are kept, a nurse friend tells Minnie of utmost secrecy, and the elderly matron is given a sum of R10 000 and transferred, tearful and scared.
“High-ranking Pretoria” then demand and confiscate Minnie’s docket, and he is transferred from PE to the Soweto Riot Squad – a really dangerous job. A bullet through his windscreen, and his car going up in flames on being started by his girlfriend, show the evil intentions of what Minnie suspects is the covert and murderous Civil Co-operation Bureau.
The case was seen as a real threat to National Party election prospects at a time when the party was starting to implode, and the opposition was growing stronger.
The Bird Island fishing trips by the three ministers have been defended, and there are character references from people who knew Wiley. The name of the third ex-minister implicated, then a senior member of cabinet and touted to succeed PW Botha, has been omitted on legal advice.
You will form your own conclusions, but there is surely enough circumstantial and victims’ evidence to be convinced that his book is an honest account of a truly diabolical episode in some of the darkest days of our country’s history.