South African Minister of Justice Michael Masutha stated in a press conference that de Kock was granted parole “in the interests of nation building and reconciliation”. De Kock had expressed remorse over his crimes and assisted the Missing Persons Task Force in locating the remains of his victims. Masutha further stated that the date of his release would not be made public. During the fall of apartheid and when the ANC gained control of the government, de Kock agreed to cooperate in providing full disclosure of his crimes against humanity through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In his book A Long Night’s Damage: Working for the Apartheid State, de Kock explains how he was driven to confess in order to mitigate his sentence. He said that “there are children who will never know their parents and [he] will have to carry this burden for ever.” De Kock goes further in stating that “[he] sympathise[s] with [his] victims as if they were [his] own children.” However, his crimes were seen as too barbaric and ruthless to justify any leniency in his sentence. In 1996, de Kock was convicted of 89 charges and would serve a lengthy sentence in the maximum security section of the Pretoria Central Prison.
The question still remains as to why de Kock has been released after serving just 20 of his 212 years and two life sentences. De Kock was previously denied parole in July 2014 as the family members of de Kock’s victims were not consulted, states Masutha. Masutha said that the families of de Kock’s victims were to be given the opportunity to “participate in the parole consideration process.” Subsequently, Masutha says that de Kock’s release is in hope that he will continue to assist officials with unsolved apartheid cases. In addition to the condition of his good behaviour, the justice minister insists on further meetings between de Kock and surviving relatives of his victims.
Following previous meetings, many victims have said that de Kock showed remorse for his crimes. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, in her book A Human Being Died That Night, a compilation of her interviews with de Kock, describes how “remorse recognizes the pain of the surviving perpetrators.” She explains this through the description of victims’ families and their experiences of meeting with de Kock. Doreen Mgoduka, the widow of one of de Kock’s victims, describes how “de Kock is the only one who helped [them] retrace the steps of what really happened.” She goes on to further describe how “de Kock brought [them] the truth so that [they] can be with [their] husbands and then release them again.” Gobodo-Madikizela argues that de Kock’s words seemed to “reconstitute” Doreen Mgoduka’s husband and allow her to “lay him to rest herself.”
However, de Kock’s parole is likely to anger other relatives of his victims and various South Africans. Victor Makoke, a relative of one of de Kock’s victims, said in a statement to Agence France-Presse in December 2014 that “[De Kock] needs to rot in jail. He’s a savage.”
Prof. Koos Malan from the department of public law at the University of Pretoria states that decisions on punishment as well as parole should be considered in “an even-handed manner”. Judicial decisions are made in court, whereas the parole board determines administrative decisions. Prof. Malan recognises the importance of the views of the victims’ families in determining these decisions. However, he says that “the decision-makers, which are either the courts or other administrative executive decision-makers, should take the decision themselves” without being “dictated to” by the views of a single person.
Prof. Malan also distinguishes between two scenarios regarding his analysis on whether de Kock’s release is fair and justifiable. Firstly, Prof. Malan believes that de Kock has indeed served his sentence. He says that “the time [de Kock] spent in jail was a considerable period” and that “he did his punishment.” Secondly, Prof. Malan states that de Kock was a part of a “political agenda” and did not commit the crimes of his own accord. In this sense, Prof. Malan allows for a comparison to be drawn between de Kock and other individuals, both from the National Party government and the African National Congress (ANC), who applied for and subsequently received amnesty through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). “When you apply the guidelines on a fair and even basis, to de Kock and all the other criminals who applied for amnesty, then arguably he should not have been in jail at all,” states Prof. Malan.
Prof. Malan also stresses the importance of a “balance of evidence”. He says that the parole council and authorities take this into account when dealing with a matter such as de Kock’s release. Prof. Malan says that the balance of evidence in this particular case showed that victims’ families “exercise[d] their judgement on a reasonable basis” and were “satisfied with sufficient remorse shown by de Kock”.
Image: Hendro van der Merwe