Cop involved in killing of Cradock Four kills himself
A former Port Elizabeth security policeman who confessed to his role in the murder of the Cradock Four struggle heroes has taken his own life more than 30 years after the notorious apartheid atrocity which changed South Africa’s political landscape forever.
Gerhard Lotz‚ 56‚ who admitted his role in the killings in 1985 of Matthew Goniwe‚ Fort Calata‚ Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli – known as the Cradock Four – before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1998‚ shot himself in his Framesby home last weekend.
But while his family is still coming to terms with his death‚ family of the Cradock Four said justice had finally been served.
When approached‚ Lotz’s wife Nicky questioned Weekend Post as to who told the newspaper about his death‚ before an angry woman came on the line.
“He is dead less than a week. You are a vulture‚” she said.
Goniwe’s elder brother‚ Alex Goniwe‚ 89‚ said he believed Lotz’s conscience had finally caught up with him.
“I suspect he could no longer live with what he did all those years ago. Committing such evil crimes will haunt you‚” he said.
“Each one of us has their day to die. He will now have to answer to his God for all the sins that he committed. As peace-loving people we forgave them even though there are still so many unanswered questions.”
Calata’s only surviving sibling and elder sister‚ Peggy Calata‚ 61‚ said she was happy Lotz’s sins had caught up with him.
“I don’t even want to know why he killed himself‚ but he did the right thing. It was long overdue. At least he took his own life unlike them [Cradock Four]. I have to celebrate this good news.”
“We are told to forgive‚ but I have not forgiven. Today I was listening to a sermon saying ‘God forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing’. But I have not forgiven.” Calata said the lives of the families of the Cradock Four had been turned upside down by their deaths.
“They [apartheid police] killed husbands and brothers and our lives were never the same.
“I will go back to Cradock to visit my mother’s grave and tell her to rest in peace now because Fort‚ Goniwe‚ Mkhonto and Mhlauli are calling them [apartheid police].”
The Mkhonto and Mhlauli families could not be reached.
In 1998‚ Lotz appeared before the TRC‚ confessing his part in the murder of the Cradock Four. Transcripts of his testimony paint a detailed picture of how he and his colleagues from the police’s security branch each played a role in the brutal killings of June 27 1985.
Lotz‚ a 24-year-old warrant officer at the time‚ was tasked with identifying and finding political activists with military training throughout the Eastern Cape. Once identified‚ a decision would be made on whether or not to “eliminate” them.
According to Lotz’s own testimony‚ Captain Sakkie van Zyl and Lieutenant Eric Taylor executed the plan to kill the Cradock Four. Three black officers‚ who helped with the operation‚ were later killed‚ in the infamous Motherwell car bombing in 1989.
Lotz had to establish a pattern for the four men’s movements and identify a possible place and time to detain them. From there‚ their deaths were meant to look like vigilante attacks by other political organisations.
He told the TRC how he‚ Van Zyl and Taylor had waited for the Honda Ballade the four were travelling in near the Olifantskop Pass‚ then followed and detained them. They were brought back to St George’s Beach‚ near Bluewater Bay‚ where they were killed.
“I took one of the persons out of the vehicle while he was still cuffed and made him walk ahead of me‚” Lotz said.
“I had a steel spring with me which I brought along.
“While the person walked ahead of me I hit him on the back of the head with the spring‚ after which he appeared to be unconscious or dead‚ he wasn’t moving . . . The black members then stabbed the person with knives. It was with their own knives.”
Lotz said at the time he was unsure whom he had hit over the head‚ but two of the other detainees had been killed in similar fashion‚ while one of them was shot and killed trying to escape. It was later established it was Goniwe whom he had hit.
Later petrol was poured over the bodies and they were set alight.
Besides the Cradock Four‚ Lotz was also implicated in the disappearance of Sipho Hashe‚ Champion Galela and Qaqawuli Godolozi‚ also known as the Pebco Three‚ in 1985.
It is‚ however‚ understood Lotz was never granted amnesty for his role in these incidents‚ and he was never convicted of any of these killings.
Justice Ministry spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said: “We are still trying to ascertain the status of the Cradock Four criminal case or if there was an appeal.”
Lotz was acquitted of all charges linked to the Motherwell bombing.
Mzolile Mrara‚ the ANC Bhisho legislature chief whip‚ reiterated his calls for an investigation into the killings of anti-apartheid activists like the Cradock Four‚ Pebco Three and Steve Biko‚ among others‚ to be reopened.
He initially made the calls in Bhisho last year after it was announced that apartheid assassin Eugene de Kock would be released on parole.
Yesterday‚ Mrara said: “The disappearance of the Pebco Three remains a mystery and we believe the case should remain opened until it is solved. The families still don’t have closure.
“Now that Vlakplaas hit squad boss Eugene de Kock is out‚ we hope that he can shed more light on these matters.”
However‚ despite Mrara’s calls‚ national police spokesman Brigadier Vish Naidoo and Hawks spokesman Robert Netshiunda said no such investigations had been reopened.
Mrara said it was unfortunate Lotz had committed suicide before apologising.
“His death can only be noted because we cannot attach any importance to it. It just reminds us of the bitterness and the many comrades we lost.
“He was one of the people who was cruel and notoriously invaded our townships and brutally killed our people.” ANC provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane said they could never celebrate the loss of any life because the government was striving for social cohesion.
“We will always be hurt by what happened‚ but we can never celebrate when someone loses their life no matter who they were. We would like to pass our condolences to his family.”