One of apartheid’s most notorious killers, Eugene de Kock, a former police colonel nicknamed "Prime Evil," will walk free after 20 years in jail. South Africa’s government announced Friday that De Kock had been granted parole.
De Kock’s bid for parole has come up for review several times before and been rejected. His release date was kept confidential.
De Kock, 66, was the commander of South Africa’s apartheid-era death squad, C10, based at Vlakplaas farm, 15 miles west of Pretoria, where dozens of black activists were tortured and killed. De Kock was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to two life terms plus 212 years in jail.
But Justice Minister Michael Masutha said De Kock would be freed in the interests of nation-building and reconciliation, a decision bound to be controversial in a nation where the scars of apartheid have yet to heal.
De Kock testified at the Truth and Reconciliation in 1998 offering detailed information about the killings of African National Congress activists and where their bodies were. He said he was following orders when he killed the activists, and testified that senior politicians of the apartheid government knew all about C10 and its activities.
He expressed remorse over the killings, and later continued to accuse apartheid-era politicians, including former President F.W. de Klerk, of knowledge of the killings at Vlakplaas.
But many South Africans believe that a person responsible for such heinous crimes should never walk free.
In 2012, De Kock wrote to the family of ANC lawyer Bheki Mlangeni, seeking forgiveness for killing him in 1991. Mlangeni was killed by a booby-trapped Walkman player, which blew up when he used it.
“Your forgiveness will mean a lot to me, but it can in no way wash away the pain I have caused. If you ever feel it will help you to deal with your pain and sorrow, feel free to visit me,” he wrote in the letter, published in South African media.
“There is no greater punishment than to have to live with the consequences of the most terrible deed with no-one to forgive you. For me, even my own death can't compare,” the letter said
Mlangeni’s widow and mother both bitterly opposed his release at the time, and told media they doubted his remorse was genuine.
Clive Derby-Lewis, convicted in the murder of Communist Party leader Chris Hani, was denied parole because he didn’t show genuine remorse, according to Masutha. The medical parole board had recommended Derby-Lewis’ release since he has lung cancer.