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Assassin to give evidence against Botha

JUST as South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission winds up its formal hearings, news has broken of what promises to be the most sensational confrontation of all.

Eugene de Kock, the convicted police assassin, has announced that he will give evidence against PW Botha in the contempt of court case the former President faces over his refusal to appear before the commission.

De Kock, who is serving a life sentence after conviction on 89 charges including six of murder, is the most notorious of the apartheid hit-squad killers.

Commander of a special assassination unit at the secret Vlakplaas security police base, he has testified at a succession of trials without apparent remorse to a succession of atrocities.

From the first, de Kock made it plain that he saw no reason not to tell the whole truth. He has impassively described to courts how he took a snooker cue to the head of one victim, breaking the shaft in two and how he repeatedly cleaved another victim with a spade. He remained deadpan as he told another court how a third victim's hair had stood on end as he put a bullet through his head.

In a trial in Port Elizabeth, he recounted how it was not uncommon to kill members of his own unit who had become `unreliable'.

Only this week de Kock has again been testifying how he carried out the bombings of the offices of church and trade union bodies opposed to apartheid, off-handedly dropping the fact that his commanding officer had told him he should shoot any policemen who got in the way of the bombing unit.

Throughout his evidence, de Kock has been at pains to give chapter and verse on who knew what, naming not only his immediate superiors but police and army generals, R F `Pik' Botha, the former Foreign Minister, Magnus Malan, the former Minister of Defence, and, most of all, P W Botha and F W de Klerk. the two former presidents. All these men, he has repeatedly insisted, either ordered his operations or knew all about them.

De Kock says he represents the footsoldiers of apartheid and that he has decided to testify against Mr Botha because he was responsible for thousands of deaths.

It is simply absurd, he insists, that P W Botha, Pik Botha and de Klerk should walk free even, in de Klerk's case, winning the Nobel Prize while humble operatives like himself who loyally carried out their orders spend their lives in jail.

(The Times, London)