To: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For Immediate Release
Date: 12 June 2023
A KEY SUSPECT IN THE CRADOCK 4 CASE, HERMANUS BAREND DU PLESSIS, DIES
Press Statement by the Foundation for Human Rights and Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) has recently learned that a key suspect in the Cradock 4 case, Hermanus Barend du Plessis, died on 16 May 2023 at the age of 79. He was one of the last surviving Security Branch officers behind the brutal killings of anti-apartheid activists Fort Calata, Matthew Goniwe, Sicelo Mhlauli, and Sparrow Mkonto (known as the Cradock 4).
On the night of 27 June 1985, on their way back to Cradock from Port Elizabeth, the four activists were abducted at a roadblock by members of the Security Branch and Vlakplaas death squad. They were then tortured and murdered.
The passing of Du Plessis is devastating for the families of the Cradock 4 who were seeking justice and closure. Du Plessis was the last living suspect against whom there was a prima facie criminal case to answer for the kidnapping and murder of the Cradock 4.
Du Plessis was the Security Branch Unit Commander for Black Areas in the Eastern Province during the 1980s and served on the Local Joint Management Committee (LJMC), a structure of the state security management system. He was involved in the planning of the Cradock 4 murders and reported back to his superiors after the operation. The TRC’s Amnesty Committee found him responsible for the murders of the Cradock 4. In December 1999 he and 5 others were denied amnesty, yet no action was taken against them.
Du Plessis was also refused amnesty for conspiring and ordering the abduction and murder of Sipho Charles Hashe, Qaqawuli Godolozi and Champion Galela (known as the Pebco 3) in May 1985. He was granted amnesty for the kidnapping and murder of Gcinisizwe Kwesi Kondile in 1981, and for the kidnapping and murder of Siphiwe Mthimkulu and Thobekile ‘Topsy’ Madaka in 1982.
The Cradock 4 families have been struggling for truth and justice for decades. Particularly in the post-apartheid era, several high-profile pleas for justice were made by Lukhanyo Calata, son of the late Fort Calata. These pleas fell on deaf ears.
Indeed, it emerged in the litigation that followed, that the Cradock 4 investigation docket went missing in 2013, after it had been taken to the office of the then Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions. It was never recovered and had to be reconstructed in 2019 following pressure from the families for action on the case.
In January 2018 the FHR’s private investigator, the late Frank Dutton, presented 20 emblematic cases to the NPA and DPCI which he urged required urgent action. One of them was the Cradock 4 case. Between 2019 and 2021, the families’ attorneys, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, and private investigator Brig Clifford Marion (Ret.) presented considerable information and evidence to the prosecutors and investigators.
When all these efforts came to naught the families applied to the Pretoria High Court to compel the NPA and SAPS to finalize the investigations and make a prosecutorial decision. These proceedings disclosed the dire state of the investigations. The litigation was suspended after the NPA agreed to follow up on several outstanding aspects and closer collaboration between the prosecutors and family legal team ensued. Regrettably, the investigations could not be concluded quickly enough.
Over the last 2 years several witnesses and potential suspects connected to the case have died, including former Security Branch Head in Cradock, Eric Winter, former President FW De Klerk, former Commander of the Security Branch and the SAP Commissioner Johan van der Merwe, former Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok, and now HB du Plessis.
These deaths (particularly those of Winter and Du Plessis) effectively bring the efforts to secure justice in the Cradock 4 case to an end. While there are a handful of other suspects still alive who are implicated in the murders there is currently insufficient evidence on hand to proceed against them. After decades of waiting the collapse of the Cradock 4 case is heart-breaking for the families. They legitimately question why this case, and many other serious apartheid-era crimes were not given serious and coherent attention following the winding up of the TRC.
The failure by the authorities to act against Du Plessis for his role in orchestrating the kidnapping and murder of the Cradock 4 must be understood in the context of the broader failure of the state to deal with the TRC cases. It has emerged that decisions were taken at the highest levels, from at least 2003 and onwards, to suppress the investigation and prosecution of the cases referred by the TRC to the NPA. The High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal in Rodrigues’s stay of prosecution case expressed dismay at how such political interference, admitted to by the NPA, could take place under a democratic constitutional order.
The families whose cases have collapsed because of delays caused by the political interference deserve nothing less than a full, open, transparent and independent commission of inquiry. Several pleas have been made for such a commission of inquiry. These have all been ignored, presumably to protect key decision-makers from the scrutiny of a public inquiry.
It is noted with deep concern that the new initiatives embarked upon by the NPA and DPCI to address the TRC cases since 2019 have not delivered significant results. There does not appear to be a truly specialised approach to these crimes from the past. Victims and families are asking whether the current administration of justice is capable of delivering justice. They fear that the few remaining cases will face the same fate as the Cradock 4 case, as elderly suspects and witnesses die and become unfit to stand trial.
To access the full record of papers in the Cradock 4 case, see:
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Tim Smit (Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Inc) at email@example.com or Kasia Zdunczyk (Foundation for Human Rights) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights is a non-profit human rights organisation that works to protect and promote human rights in South Africa. The FHR was established in 1996 to address the historical legacy of apartheid and to promote and advance transformation and human rights based on the new constitution. The FHR implements four main human rights programs: the Masibambisane – GBFV Free Zones Programme, the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, the Community Engagement Programme, and the Access to Justice Programme. Over the last two decades, the FHR has played a significant role in promoting the rights of victims of apartheid crimes by supporting the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations, including justice and accountability for past crimes and reparations.