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Last Updated: Friday, 17 August 2007, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Apartheid murder plotters guilty
Apartheid-era South African Police Minister Adriaan Vlok (2nd l), his former police chief Johann van der Merwe (l) and three other former security officials at their trial 17 August 2007, in Pretoria
The case threatens to reopen apartheid-era divisions
Five former security officials in South Africa's apartheid regime have received suspended prison sentences for plotting to kill an anti-apartheid activist.

Former Police Minister Adriaan Vlok and his then police chief Johan van der Merwe got suspended 10-year sentences.

The others received suspended five-year sentences from the court in Pretoria.

Under a plea bargain, all five admitted trying to kill prominent black activist Frank Chikane in 1989 by lacing his underwear with a nerve toxin.

Rev Chikane, who is now a director in the president's office, has said he did not want to see the men go to prison.

Vlok sought forgiveness from Rev Chikane last year by washing his feet.


The BBC's Peter Greste, at the court in Pretoria, says the case has threatened to reopen apartheid-era divisions.

How can there be reconciliation when there is no justice?
Former ANC activist Zweli Mkhize

Two protests took place outside the High Court during the trial.

One called for justice for the victims of the apartheid regime while the other demanded that members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) should also face charges for alleged offences committed during the apartheid era.

"If the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) perseveres in not treating the ANC's leaders equally to other offenders, then any further prosecutions will amount to selective morality and a witch hunt," the Afrikaans civil rights group, Afri-forum, said in a statement reported by the AFP news agency.

But victims of apartheid say justice should be served.

"How can there be reconciliation when there is no justice?" former ANC activist Zweli Mkhize told AP news agency.

Emergency laws

The attempt on Mr Chikane's life came when he was secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches.

Rev Frank Chikane. File photo
Chikane says he believes Vlok's statements of contrition are sincere

The five accused attempted to assassinate the clergyman by placing underwear impregnated with a powerful nerve toxin in his suitcase while he was travelling.

Vlok and Van der Merwe were in charge of law and order in South Africa during the late 1980s - a period when emergency laws granted police sweeping powers of arrest and detention against anti-apartheid activists.

The three others were lower ranking police officers at the time.

A post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission - headed by Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu - investigated offences committed during the apartheid era and granted amnesty to those who admitted their crimes.

Vlok appeared before the commission, and received amnesty for a series of bombings, but did not ask for immunity for the attempted poisoning of Rev Chikane.

Earlier this month, the former South African President, F W De Klerk, denied any involvement in crimes or human rights abuses committed during the apartheid era.

At a news conference in Cape Town ahead of Vlok's trial, he said he had been falsely accused of being implicated in the attempt on Rev Chikane's life.

Background to the anti-apartheid killing case

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