Coetzee: 'apartheid's rattlesnake' goes to his grave: Dirk Coetzee (pictured right), died on 7 February unfulfilled, feeling betrayed by his new best friends in the ANC. But, as Pusch Commey reports, who could trust a man to whom life, death, right and wrong were just words, with no meaning? And whose hands dripped with so much blood.

Author:Commey, Pusch
Position:South Africa - Viewpoint essay

HE WAS APARTHEID SOUTH Africa's chief assassin, founding member and commander-in-chief of the notorious Vlaakplaas death squad; a unit set up by the government to eliminate those considered a nuisance. The prime target was ANC members. Dirk Coetzee died 7 March 2013, at the age of 67, having suffered from diabetes and kidney malfunction. On his deathbed his last words were: "My time is up. I am finished."

He was vile. Many people called him "apartheid's rattlesnake". His favourite pastime was recounting horror stories of his murder victims burning on pyres of wood for hours until they were ashes, while he and his colleagues, amidst raucous laughter, barbecued meat nearby and washed it down with their favourite rum and coke.

In 1980, at the age of 36, Coetzee was handpicked to form a counter-insurgency police unit at a farm called Vlaakplaas outside Pretoria. He recruited a number of black turncoats called Askaris, and a group of hardcore white policemen.

Killing was their business, recounted Coetzee in an interview. "For a decade, the men of Vlaakplaas went out to kill, and kill again. And in apartheid South Africa, business was roaring."

Among his prominent victims was the ANC lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Griffith Mxenge, murdered in Durban on the 19 November 1981. In 1997, he was convicted of the offence but never spent a day in jail. He was granted amnesty for all his crimes after jumping ship to the ANC, and making a full confession at the contentious Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

In the end, he felt betrayed and abandoned. According to him, he had been promised the post of senior police general or the commissioner of police 23 years ago by Jacob Zuma, but instead he was shunted into the archives section of the national intelligence agency, after apartheid was defeated.

Did he, like Saul, experience an epiphany? Unlikely. His decision to cross over may have been prompted by bitterness, vengeance, professional jealousy, self-preservation, either or all of the above.

According to him, Vlaakplaas gave him his happiest moments in life and there was no better feeling than reporting a successful hit to his superiors. However, after 18 months, he was fired by the generals for botching a kidnapping, and replaced by Eugene De Kock (aka Prime Evil) who is now serving 2.12 years in jail for his many killings and lack of contrition. At the trial of De Kock, Coetzee testified against him.

De Kock was prolific. His direct hits ran...

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