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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: July 2009

3 - Communicating criminal and political responsibility in the TRC process



‘I'm not guilty – De Klerk’ is the striking headline of a front page article published in the wake of the only trial thus far of a former National Party minister for apartheid-era crimes. The former minister is Adriaan Vlok; his portfolio was ‘law and order’ in the final phase of apartheid's unravelling, when the security police increasingly resorted to clandestine attacks on prominent anti-apartheid figures to stem the ever-rising tide of resistance against the government. Vlok was charged in August 2007 for his role in the attempted poisoning in 1989 of the Reverend Frank Chikane, then secretary general of the South African Council of Churches. The case ended with a plea bargain under which Vlok received a suspended sentence of ten years' imprisonment. Vlok later insisted that there was little evidence to link him to the crime: he pleaded guilty, he claimed, because he did not want to leave his former operatives out in the cold. F.W. de Klerk, who took over from P.W. Botha as state president in 1989, still maintains that he was never personally aware of any policy that authorised the extra-legal killing of political activists. The arresting headline neatly sums up a litany of denials of any personal responsibility, for apartheid and the means by which it was secured, that De Klerk has been issuing since 1994 – along with claims that outrageous acts of the sort Vlok was charged with, were committed by a few ‘bad apples’ among the security forces.

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