TRC Hearing on the death of Griffith Mxenge

Sally Burdett:

He was unknown to the Security Police at Vlakplaas near Pretoria until they were told to "make a plan" with him. Several banning orders, long days in detention and a spell on Robben Island had failed to break his spirit and crush his fight against apartheid. He was Griffiths Mxenge, the human rights lawyer who vigorously defended ANC comrades. So they abducted, stabbed and hammered him to death at Umlazi, south of Durban , in November 1981. Fifteen years later, in October 1996, three of Mxenge's awaiting-trial murderers appeared before the Amnesty Committee in Durban . They were Dirk Coetzee, Almond Nofemela and David Tshikalanga. Although they had already broken their oath of silence on the apartheid government's death-squads seven years earlier, they had never buried their skeletons. Angie Kapelianis and Dumisani Shange report.

Dirk Coetzee:

.I . I don't think I will ever be able to put it behind me because I'll have to drag those corpses with me till the day I die. I will have to live with that, whether it's in jail, whether it's out of jail, I will have to live with that. That's a problem for me and that I will have to face, but you've got to reap what you've sowed.

Angie Kapelianis:

Dirk Coetzee is a product of apartheid Afrikanerdom. His dream is to be selected to an elite corps of the armed forces - the Security Police. And for this dream, he's prepared to die and to kill. In August 1980, he arrives at a beautiful farm that now has a tainted past: Vlakplaas. This is where the Security Police convert freedom fighters into their very own soldiers, askaris. In just more than a year, Dirk Coetzee and his hit squad sow a trail of destruction and death for the apartheid government. One of the ghosts in that trail is Griffiths Mxenge.

Dirk Coetzee:

.The decision was made by Brigadier [Jan] Van der Hoven from Port Natal Security Police and he told me that . uh . he was a thorn in the flesh [of the apartheid government] because he acted as instructing lawyer for all ANC cadres and . uh . he stuck by the law. So they couldn't get to him. I never heard of the name before until that day when I was instructed to "make a plan" with Griffiths Mxenge. It means one thing only: Get rid of the guy, kill him. Nothing else, but murder him, kill him.

Dumisani Shange:

The oral instruction is specific: "Don't kill him with a gun and don't let him disappear."

Dirk Coetzee:

.That was the instruction. Make it look like a robbery. So the only other way out was knives. Stab him. Rob some of his stuff or take some of his stuff to make it look like a robbery. I organised . uh . for the knives. I poisoned the meat for the dogs so that . to give them an option.

Angie Kapelianis:

When Griffiths Mxenge wakes up to his screaming children, he finds his watchdogs squirming to death on chunks of meat that Dirk Coetzee has laced with strychnine. An ominous sign that leaves him on edge. But still he puts in a hard day's work at his law firm. When he calls it a day, Durban is snugly wrapped in a blanket of mist and drizzle. Stranded in the road below his house is a grey bakkie with an open bonnet. And waiting for him are the askaris.

Dirk Coetzee:

.Brian Ngqulunga was . was picked because he was the Zulu and knew the area and knew the language. An . an . and he's dead. They killed him because he was on the verge, as it came out in the Gene [ Eugene ] de Kock trial, of wanting to spill the beans and support me. David Tshikalanga I've known since 1973. He worked for me and I helped him joining the police and he was on Vlakplaas. So a well-trusted guy. Almond Nofemela was a . a sober guy, a fit guy, a tiger if it comes to guts. If we've got to do something, Almond won't hesitate. He's got guts. And Joe Mamasela was the super-fit, killer instinct . uh . didn't smoke, didn't drink at all and . uh . if you look at that results that was left there, you could see a absolute killer. He just . he just never stops. I mean . uh . that's same way with his . his . his gun.

Dumisani Shange:

At the Umlazi stadium, the pack pounces on Griffiths Mxenge. They tear into him viciously. With three okapi knives, a hunting knife and a wheel-spanner.

Dirk Coetzee:

.Tshikalanga stabbed first and he couldn't get the knife out of the chest of Mxenge.

David Tshikalanga:

.To tell the truth, I stabbed once by that knife which remained in the body and I was unable to remove it from the body.

Bongani Gamede:

David Tshikalanga

David Tshikalanga:

.I stabbed f. first in front of him.

Dirk Coetzee:

.Then apparently Mxenge took the knife out himself and started chasing them with the . with the knife and that is apparently when Almond [Nofemela] knocked him down with the wheel-spanner and the stabbing frenzy started between Almond and Joe [Mamasela].

Bongani Gamede:

Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson:

.Can you give any reason why he was stabbed so many times?.

Bongani Gamede:

Almond Nofemela

Almond Nofemela:

.The re. reason, I suspect, is that all the time he was not falling to the ground. He was fighting.

Andrew Wilson:

.He . he fought to save his own life, didn't he?

Almond Nofemela:

That is correct, sir.

Andrew Wilson:

Did he have any weapon?

Almond Nofemela:

No, not that I know of.

Angie Kapelianis:

Where were you in all this?

Dirk Coetzee:

Drinking and driving around Durban . Partying and waiting for the rendezvous time to come up and meet them and say: "Is everything still okay? Nothing funny happened, uh? Okay." So one big party.

Angie Kapelianis:

While they are feasting, Griffiths Mxenge's wife is sick with worry. Victoria Mxenge even phones Brigadier Jan van der Hoven who's been baying for her husband's blood. He assures her that his men haven't detained her husband. Then she finds Griffiths Mxenge's corpse in the government mortuary. Forty-five lacerations and stab wounds pierce his body, lungs, liver and heart. His throat is slashed. His ears are practically cut off. And his stomach is ripped open. Victoria Mxenge fights back her tears and vows to see justice done. But she never does because she too is taken out four years later. Possibly by another hit squad.

Bongani Gamede:

Rudolf Jansen

Rudolf Jansen:

.What is your present attitude towards what you did?

Dirk Coetzee:

.An extreme mixed emotions of anger, deep-seated anger for allowing me to get involved with this nonsense. Uh . humiliation, embarrassment and a helplessness of a pathetic: I'm sorry for what I've done. What . what . what else can I offer them? A pathetic nothing. So, in all honesty, I don't expect the Mxenge family to forgive me because I don't know how I ever in my life would be able to forgive a man like Dirk Coetzee, if he's done to me what I've done to them.

Dumisani Shange:

Dirk Coetzee is right. The Mxenge family cannot forgive him for what he and his askaris did to Griffiths Mxenge. The most senior family member is Mhleli Mxenge.

Mhleli Mxenge:

.I felt even more bitter because he does not show any signs of remorse. It is as if, you know, he . he . he really feels that he . it . it was an achievement to do what he did.

Angie Kapelianis:

How do you expect him to show remorse?

Mhleli Mxenge:

In fact, I don't expect remorse. In fact, I could answer that question if he has been to a court of law, if he has been convicted and charged, you know. I'm therefore totally opposed to granting of amnesty to Dirk Coetzee, [David] Tshikalanga and Almond Nofemela, as this would be a travesty of justice.

Angie Kapelianis:

Shortly after Dirk Coetzee, Almond Nofemela and David Tshikalanga testify for amnesty, KwaZulu-Natal Attorney General Tim McNally drags them to court. There, they are found guilty of murdering Griffiths Mxenge. But three days before sentencing, on the 4 th of August 1997 , truth defeats justice. Dirk Coetzee, Almond Nofemela and David Tshikalanga get amnesty and breathe a huge sigh of relief for now.

Support South African History Online

Dear friends of SAHO

South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.

SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.

Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.



Make a donation here and send us a message of support.