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FW Admits Apartheid Govt Bombed Khotso House

South African Press Association (Johannesburg)
March 21, 2003
Posted to the web March 21, 2003,


Former president FW de Klerk has admitted that he knew the 1988 bombing of the SA Council of Churches' Johannesburg headquarters had been authorised by the apartheid government.

The admission was contained in the final two volumes of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released on Friday.

In testimony to the TRC in 1996 and 1997, De Klerk stated that neither he nor his colleagues in the cabinet, the State Security Council, or cabinet committees had authorised any gross violations of human rights.

He has now conceded to a finding by the commission that his then police commissioner General Johann van der Merwe told him he had been ordered to bomb Khotso House, which housed the headquarters of the SA Council of Churches.

"Mr de Klerk did not report the matter to the prosecuting authorities or the Goldstone Commission because he knew that General van der Merwe would be applying for amnesty in respect of the relevant bombing," the TRC says in its report.

"The Commission finds that when Mr de Klerk testified before the Commission ... he knew that General van der Merwe had been authorised to bomb Khotso House, and accordingly, his statement that none of his colleagues in Cabinet, the State Security Council or Cabinet Committees had authorised assassination, murder or other gross violations of human rights was indefensible."

It finds the former president had failed to make a full disclosure of the involvement of senior members of the government and the then SA Police in the bombing of Khotso House.

Shortly before the first five volumes of the TRC's final report were released in 1998, De Klerk filed an urgent application to the Cape High Court for an order interdicting the commission from publishing any of its intended findings against him.

To prevent a delay of the handing over of the report to former President Nelson Mandela, the commission blacked out the findings on De Klerk.

Afterwards, Mandela's office sought to facilitate a settlement between the TRC and De Klerk.

As a result of discussions between De Klerk and the TRC's amnesty committee, the former president has conceded to the new finding released on Friday.

The report says the finding was not made an order of court as it was never put to the TRC and was thus never discussed, accepted or rejected. The TRC was in suspension at the time of the talks.

Nobody was killed in the bombing.

The finding states that the bombing posed a high risk to passers-by, and its effect was predictable.

Former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, who led the SAP bombing team, foresaw the possibility of loss of life, the report says.

"The risk was inevitably foreseeable and was in fact foreseen; the bombing was nevertheless ordered and proceeded with by the perpetrators with reckless disregard of the consequences."

In 1997, De Klerk stated the bombing was not a gross violation of human rights as nobody was killed or seriously injured.

"The Commission finds that the bombing of Khotso House constituted a gross violation of human rights and that at all material times, Mr de Klerk must have had knowledge it did, despite the fact that no lives were lost."

The FW de Klerk Foundation in a statement, disputed the TRC's version of events saying the former president's lawyers and the commission reached a "substantial agreement" on the matter in the last week.

"After lengthy discussion between the lawyers of the two main parties, the TRC agreed to remove all but one of the references from the findings that Mr De Klerk found most objectionable. Mr De Klerk's lawyers were confident that they would have been successful if he had decided also to oppose this one outstanding finding in the courts," the foundation said.

It said De Klerk did not want to delay the release of the final two volumes of the report by applying another interdict.

"He (De Klerk) is satisfied that his initial decision to approach the courts has been fully vindicated.

"However, Mr De Klerk wishes to stress that his action in so doing in no way implies that he agrees with the TRC's revised findings relating to his conduct or his statements after he became aware -- toward the end of his presidency and long after the event -- of the role of General Van der Merwe and Mr Vlok in the Khotso House affair and their intention to apply for amnesty."

The former president remained of the opinion that the bombing was "outrageous and reprehensible", but did not constitute a gross violation of human rights.

"Mr De Klerk accordingly stands by the statement that he subsequently made to the TRC," the foundation said.

"He fundamentally disagrees with the value judgement contained in the relevant findings of the TRC which in his opinion are unfounded, inaccurate and reflect the commission's general bias.

Indeed, the same is true of many other contentious findings made by the TRC."

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