Sunday, June 24, 2012
Row brews over necklacing comment
27 Mar 1997 00:00 - Staff Reporter
TELEVISION journalist Max du Preez has lashed out at the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) and The Flame Lily Foundation, an organisation which represents the interests of former Rhodesian citizens. Du Preez’s criticism stems from a complaint lodged by The Flame Lily Foundation about statements he made in the programme Truth Commission Special Report, which is under adjudication.
Du Preez’s contentious comments were broadcast by SABC1, February 9, and referred to the origins of necklacing: “The myth perpetuated by the state then [1984 to 1989] was that this was an example of African brutality. The truth we now know is that this repulsive form of killing was first started by white Rhodesian security forces in the 1970s and then brought to South Africa by the security police.”
The Flame Lily Foundation chair Edward Sutton-Pryce, a former deputy minister of defence in Ian Smith’s government, states in a letter of complaint to the BCCSA that Du Preez’s reference to white Rhodesian security forces is “untrue and malicious” and “a misrepresentation of the truth”. Any Rhodesian security force member found carrying out “such a dastardly act” would have been prosecuted, he says. Demanding proof or a retraction and an apology, he castigates Du Preez for a casting doubt on the “integrity of all former members of the Rhodesian security forces”.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Du Preez says he used the term necklacing according to its popular usage, which encompasses the use of fire to kill people or burn bodies.
In a responding statement to the BCCSA, he says the myth perpetuated in South Africa was that this practice of necklacing originated in a primitive African belief that the victim would only die if his soul was also destroyed and that, the urban legend went, could only be done by fire.
His remarks on the programme were intended to debunk this myth, says Du Preez, since “the practice in South Africa was actually not started by township people or the liberation movements, but by security policemen”.
Du Preez’s statement to the BCCSA argues that former Vlakplaas operatives Eugene de Kock, Dirk Coetzee and other ex-security policemen openly admitted, before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to necklacing. They have also stated that they learnt this practice and other dirty tricks during time served in the Rhodesian security forces, says Du Preez, adding that Coetzee has stated that he first burnt bodies at the orders of his superiors while serving in Rhodesia in 1974.
De Kock has repeatedly said that his first experiences of “dirty war” were in the Rhodesian conflict, says Du Preez, arguing that De Kock and a number of other policemen have told the truth commission that their post-traumatic stress disorder began when they were fighting in Rhodesia as it was a particularly cruel war.
Furthermore, the founder of the South African Police Service’s death squad at Vlakplaas, general Jac Buchner, was a Rhodesian veteran who then joined the service, he said.
However, the BCCSA demanded further “indisputable” proof from Du Preez subsequent to this submission, arguing that statements to the truth commission are untested and therefore not proof enough.
Du Preez says he is angry that the BCCSA is “acting like a court of law” and disappointed that the commission should entertain a complaint of this nature from Sutton-Pryce, who was “one of the top men in a racist white government”.
Du Preez says he is prepared “to go all the way” in providing any and all evidence the BCCSA requests. He says he has an affidavit and photographs from Coetzee supporting the veracity of his statements as well as several supporting documents from the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Justice Ministry in Zimbabwe, extracts from books published on the Rhodesian war and statements from local and foreign journalists who covered the war. This is indisputable evidence that the practice in question, and much worse, was carried out by Rhodesian security forces, says Du Preez.
Furthermore, he says it is “outrageous that Sutton-Pryce can play holier-than-thou” with comments aimed at portraying the Rhodesian conflict as a “gentleman’s war” when there is a substantial body of evidence, much of which has been in existence for some time, showing otherwise.
“The real pity is that the Rhodesian security forces did not have to face a truth commission. If they had, I firmly believe they would not make these kinds of claims. This is an insult to me, to the truth commission and to South Africans in general. For organisations like The Flame Lily Foundation to pull this kind of hypocritical stunt is abusing the hospitality of this country.”
Sutton-Pryce could not be reached for comment, but BCCSA chair Kobus van Rooyen admitted that he was “well aware” of the possible danger of conservative elements misusing the BCCSA for personal gain. However, he argued that the Du Preez case was justified as the complaint fell within the commission’s brief.
“Du Preez’s evidence was unilateral and insufficient. As a quasi-judicial body, the commission is bound to take up issues such as these,” Van Rooyen said.