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‘I would be frightened to meet Barnard’

Ferdi Barnard at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearings.

Ferdi Barnard at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearings.

Published Feb 1, 2015


Johannesburg - David Webster had been a feature of Ferdi Barnard’s house for a long time before he finally gunned the anthropologist down in Troyeville on Workers’ Day, 1989.

The killer’s ex-wife, Maryna Language, told the Pretoria High Court during his trial how the Civil Co-operation Bureau had supplied Barnard with a hit list which included the names of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. It was apparently in open sight in their home.

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In fact, had Clive Derby-Lewis and Janusz Walus not assassinated Chris Hani in April 1993, and had Barnard not been convicted of Webster’s murder, the undercover CCB agent might have got to Hani first. The SACP leader’s name was also on the list.

But if the targets were in any kind of order, with Webster at the top, Barnard was to tick his name off first.

This year, it will be 26 years since the sudden shotgun blast that took the revered activist’s life in front of his partner, Maggie Friedman. But it doesn’t seem Barnard intends to lose his grip on her consciousness any time soon as the killer now seeks her assistance in earning his parole.

On Friday, as Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha released former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock and denied Derby-Lewis medical parole, he said the National Council of Correctional Services had said it needed more time to consider Barnard’s application. Thus, it had not yet submitted its recommendations.

This buys the minister time on a man who has a peculiarly fearsome atmosphere around him, even in the gallery of bloodthirsty apartheid rogues.

But the extension would have been disappointing for Barnard, convicted 17 years ago after it took the State almost a decade to find him, complete its investigations and prosecute. He was also found guilty of the attempted murder of former Justice Minister Dullah Omar, as well as other charges, getting two life sentences and 63 years in jail.

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If Barnard believes he is in limbo, he might consider how the darkness of the past, the scratching and clamouring of an evil time, still gnaws at the edges of Friedman’s life.

Webster was involved in the lives of many deprived South Africans, including children behind bars, migrant workers, the unemployed, the poor, those devastated by landlessness and lonely through illness.

He and Friedman researched repression.

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He helped found the progressive Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee and was a key figure in the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee. He worked with the Black Sash, Concerned Social Workers and others who railed at the government, threatening their own liberty.

He was deeply involved in the UDF’s Call to Whites campaign, which led to the emergence of the Five Freedoms Forum – a direct response to the cry from black South Africans for solidarity against the state of emergency.

Friedman, who had been unloading plants from their bakkie with Webster on the morning he was murdered, says she heard a noise like a car backfiring and then accelerating. She then saw Webster stumbling and holding his chest.

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Apart from the torture of grief, she had to go through an inquest, at least seven investigations, several media probes, a military inquiry, the TRC and Barnard’s trial. Now Friedman has been approached by victim-offender mediators to meet Barnard, and she says she has no intention of doing it.

“I don’t want to, and I can’t see any reason why I should. I can’t speak for other victims, and I know some people, especially if they’re religious, have unresolved issues and want to meet the perpetrator. I don’t.

“I believe this bid for us to meet is tied up to his parole, but for me that’s a separate process which doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s a clear agenda, even if it’s a bit cloudy around the issue of victims being consulted as a necessary part of that process.”

When Barnard went on trial in 1998, there were tales of how he had apparently murdered others, including claims he had beaten a friend to death with a baseball bat in Berea.

Friedman’s memory of the day Webster died begin when a car glided into view in the quiet street where the couple lived, and where they had often shielded activists on the run from the security police.

Within seconds, as if time had slammed into a blinding glare, a shotgun had been shoved through the window and Webster would soon be dead.

Barnard, who had attempted to disguise himself by wearing a short blond wig, was cold-hearted in his description of how Friedman responded when she saw the man she loved dying on the tarmac. He said she had cried “like a stuck pig”.

Recently married, and the mother of a son and daughter now in their twenties, Friedman says she has moved forward with her life, partly because it was so vital for her that “someone be held accountable and paid”. That happened.

“I really did have a sense of closure after Barnard was convicted, and now I have absolutely no interest in dealing with him any more. Remember, he was adamant in denying he had done it. But it was situated in a particular time, and he was also in his own capsule of alcohol and drugs.”

Friedman has worked hard at not living with unresolved conflict around the murder.

“It does feel like it was yesterday, but I’ve also lived a whole lifetime since then. It would be very sad if I was full of grudges, but it takes a real effort not to be.”

She’s also concerned about the need for prisoners applying for parole to have the buy-in of their victims and their victims’ families, believing this “places an extraordinary pressure on us”.

“I don’t believe parole is up to us, or the decision should involve us. It’s not right to give us some say in whether or not someone is released. Imagine a rape survivor being placed in that position. They can’t be objective. We can’t be objective, so how can we be a part of that?”

But there is also a certain trepidation. Friedman is concerned that Barnard has her contact details, although she doesn’t believe he would necessarily harm her.

“I would be frightened to meet him in the street. I would have an adverse physical reaction. I would prefer the authorities let me know ahead of time if they intend giving him parole, because I wouldn’t like to encounter him unprepared.”

She pauses for a moment, and then asks herself: “Am I sorry Barnard has suffered for what he did? I still believe it was a terrible, terrible thing he did. I can’t say it contributed something, or made a difference.

“I think more about how we’ve missed out on all the contributions David would have made.”

Sunday Independent

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