Refections on Jane Quin’s Maverick piece
On 29 June, Jane Quin published a piece in the Daily Maverick in which she challenged the possible granting of parole to Eugene de Kock because of his role in the December 1985 killing of her sister Jacqui Quin and brother-in-law Leon Joe Meyer in Lesotho.
It is a very moving piece. Every word is steeped with the deep sense of loss and trauma for Jacki and Leonâ€™s families arising from the night this recently married couple and seven others were shot by apartheid security police. Jane describes in detail how the attack took place, and the way the severely injured Leon dragged himself to a nearby house to raise the alarm. This did not spare their one-year-old daughter the unimaginable horror of sitting alone through the night before she and her motherâ€™s body were found the next morning.
It is also an uncomfortable piece. It touches on many issues, emotions and questions, not least the unresolvedness of notions of reconciliation, justice and accountability in post-apartheid South Africa, and how they form part of the complex legacies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) 16 years after the last hearings took place.
One of these legacies is how to create spaces that allow for those who do not subscribe to the narratives of reconciliation and forgiveness that would seem, on the face of things at least, to bring some degree of closure to the trauma and injustice of apartheid-era political violence. There have been prominent and inspiring examples of how this forgiveness narrative can work. The Biehl familyâ€™s relationship with the APLA members who were responsible for their daughter Amyâ€™s death is one that has unfolded in a very public way. The journey of reconciliation between Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele in the wake of Lyndi Fourieâ€™s death at the Heidelberg Tavern Massacre is another. And there are countless lesser known stories, many facilitated by hard-working members of civil society, some of which have been documented by The Forgiveness Project. What is key to each of these stories is how people make sense of their relationship with those who would have been enemies in the past. These healing journeys involve a commitment to vulnerability and openness and a desire to seek out narrative terrains defined by compassion, understanding, and a process of re-humanisation.
What Quin highlights in her piece is that these narratives of forgiveness are not always accessible or perceived as desirable, especially when due processes of truth-telling and justice have not been seen through to any kind of conclusion. According to testimony at the TRC, Jacki and Leonâ€™s killers received a Police Star Award for Bravery from the apartheid regime for their actions. There has never been a retraction or apology for this. They have also managed to evade prosecution under the new regime. The families have been let down not once, but twice. Jane’s piece is not a call for revenge, but a plea for justice - for the state to make good on its duty of care and protection of citizens.
The hurt and injustices that still define her sisterâ€™s death highlight the multiple spaces that families face when negotiating the aftermath of political violence. So many things are being negotiated in various ways over long periods of time, not least grieving the loss of a loved one, seeking justice in the face of a criminal act and finding oneâ€™s place in public processes of post-apartheid transformation, such as the TRC.
Jacki Quin and Leon Meyer will go down in history as ANC comrades who died at the hands of the apartheid regime. It should always be remembered that Jacki was also a daughter, a sister and a mother, and Leon a son, a brother and a father. Any death of a young person or a parent shatters a person and familyâ€™s sense of being. It is like losing a limb. One never â€˜recoversâ€™ or â€˜gets overâ€™ an event of such magnitude. Every day and year that follows involves grieving and celebrating those who have gone, and assimilating and learning to live with the unfolding and sometimes unspeakable after-effects of tragic loss. This should never be forgotten or ignored when such losses are discussed in the public domain.
But Jacqui and Leonâ€™s deaths were made more complex than most by the fact that they were the result of an act of murder carried out in the name of political ideology. Leon was a trained member of MK, meaning that his death was defined by the TRC as a political act. In Jackiâ€™s case the TRC denied amnesty to Johannes Velde van der Merwe, Eugene Alexander de Kock, Willem Albertus Nortje, Izak Daniel Bosch, Nicholaas Johannes Vermeulen and Frederick Schoon for their roles in her death, because she was a civilian. This should have cleared the way for them to be prosecuted for murder in a court of law. As with so many of these cases, this has not happened. Partial justification may be found in the fact that this killing took place outside of South African territory. (One wonders whether anyone in Lesotho has ever considered extraditing and prosecuting them?) However, mostly it is due to the lack of political will by the South African government to follow up on the recommendations contained in the TRC Report.
How, then, does a family such as the Quins (and the many other families bereaved by his actions that have followed news report about his possible parole) make sense of Eugene de Kock? Jane refers several times to the fact that he and his collaborators still have life, while her sister and others had theirs brutally and unjustly taken away. This unbalancing of the scales of justice is worthy of attention and regard. But the losses arising from brutal and immoral acts are not only about mortality; they are also about the dehumanising effects for those left behind - both perpetrators and victims.
What I hear in Jane Quinâ€™s words is the pain of someone who feels a sense of personal loss and of injustice as keenly now as she ever did. Whether or not one agrees with her statements, she and her family deserve our respect and understanding.
What I sense in the work of Eugene de Kock in accounting for his actions at the TRC, in court and in his behind-the-scenes support of ongoing investigations, is a desire to right the appalling moral and mortal injury he has caused to people, to southern African society and to himself. It is far more than either his superiors or most of his colleagues have done.
The disempowerment of those affected by apartheid-era crimes due to the governmentâ€™s neglect cannot be allowed to continue. It is heartening to note that, subsequent to Jane Quinâ€™s Daily Maverick piece, de Kockâ€™s parole has been delayed to allow the Department of Justice to consult with families affected by his actions. Hopefully this will translate into genuine consultation and dialogue. What is needed right now is compassion and wisdom from both government and society, to enable a healing and re-humanising process governed by respect, not political expedience, trite notions of reconciliation or simplistic understandings of justice.
Theresa Edlmann is the director of the Legacies of Apartheid Wars Project at Rhodes University.