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Key witness in Cradock Four apartheid-era killings dies shattering all hope of justice

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Gqeberha – A key suspect in the killing of the Cradock 4: Fort Calata, Matthew Goniwe, Sicelo Mhlauli, and Sparrow Mkonto on June 27, 1985, has died.

The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) said Hermanus Barend du Plessis, an apartheid-era policeman died on May 16, 2023 at the age of 79.

It added that Du Plessis was involved in the planning of the Cradock 4 murders, and reported back to his superiors after the operation.

In a statement issued on Monday, the foundation said the four anti-apartheid activists were on their way back to Cradock from then Port Elizabeth, when they were abducted at a roadblock by members of the Security Branch and Vlakplaas death squad.

They were 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 commander for black areas in the then 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 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) amnesty committee found him responsible for the murders of the Cradock 4. In December, 1999 he and five 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 foundation said.

The foundation said 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.

“The docket was never recovered, and had to be reconstructed in 2019 following pressure from the families for action in the case, the foundation said.

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