Nothing more that can shock us... or so we thought
In the 1980s most white South Africans believed the National Party (NP) was, generally speaking, a good, efficient government who wanted what was best for South Africa.
Thanks to the then government’s stringent (and very successful) policy of media censorship most white people had only a vague idea of what was going on in the townships. The majority certainly had no clue what the NP government, and specifically the South African Defence Force (SADF) and South African Police (SAP), were up to.
It was only in 1989 when the progressive anti-apartheid weekly newspaper Vrye Weekblad blew the lid on the now well-known horrors of Vlakplaas, that the shocking truth of what the NP government was really busy with became public knowledge. Captain Dirk Coetzee revealed in dreadful detail to Vrye Weekblad how an elite unit of the SAP brutally assassinated, kidnapped, poisoned and executed anti-apartheid activists.
Even after these revelations, many white South Africans refused to believe that the NP government, whom they kept in power for decades, was in charge of a death-squad network to assassinate its opponents. Even some local newspapers refused to believe it. It all sounded too horrible, too unbelievable and just did not match the image law-abiding white South Africans had of their leaders: Family men who sat primly in the front row of their NG churches Sunday after Sunday.
The 1990s brought us the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and once again white South Africans were shocked. Many found it hard to believe "their government" would orchestrate incidences of gross human rights abuses, including a programme of biological warfare. It all sounded too horrible to be true.
Thirty years later we, white and black South Africans, know the horrors of apartheid. We know how inhumane it was and how it damaged the psyche of our nation. We feel the damage every day.
Since the innocent 1980s many books have been written chronicling our horrific apartheid history. Every now and again more personal stories and more terrible detail of torture and death are revealed. In this era we have no excuse to be ignorant of the apartheid horrors and there is not much left that can truly shock us. Or so we thought...
The story of The Lost Boys of Bird Island however takes the apartheid atrocities to another level. Not only were the NP government responsible for the most brutal assassinations and gross human rights abuses, no, much worse.
This book, written by former narcotics branch policeman Mark Minnie and investigative journalist Chris Steyn, reveals that some of the most powerful leaders of that era were involved in brutal sexual assault of children, most of them vulnerable and black.
This is a shocking exposé from within the heart of the NP government and even worse than the work of the apartheid death squads we already know about. To many people this will come as a great shock and some will find it hard to believe. The third minister, who is still alive today, will certainly deny any involvement. There will be lots of denial, but hopefully the few people who know what happened on Bird Island in the 1980s and who are still alive, will be brave enough to come forward now that this story is in the open at last.
If we are truly lucky there could be some form of justice thirty years later. It is not impossible. If not, at least we now have another puzzle piece, another part of the truth of a horrific part of our history and no one can any longer make excuses for the unforgiveable sins of the apartheid government or say: We didn’t know.
- Maryna Lamprecht is a nonfiction publisher at Tafelberg/NB Publishers in Cape Town and commissioning editor of The Lost Boys of Bird Island.