Update: I highly recommend reading Palesa Morudu’s moving, powerful piece on meeting De Kock – the man whose unit was directly responsible for the murder of a family member. http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/…/2016-05-16-eugene-de-koc…/…
Another update: I will add that I was personally angry too, that it was a way for me as a white person to stand up to white insensitivity and ongoing willful ignorance of how apartheid devastated this country and black people and how the aftershocks continue to do so. We cannot close our eyes and wish it away.
I am also open to conversation about better ways for whites to call out whiteness.
In hindsight, I think a walk-out by the authors and publishers in protest and solidarity would have been more powerful.
Updated for clarity and for timeline: The short version: On Saturday night, Vlakplaas commander and apartheid assassin Eugene de Kock, known as “Prime Evil”, attended the invite-only Sunday Times Prize Shortlist party without any notice to the attendees and I quietly and politely asked him to leave because people (black and white) were shaken by his presence, visibly upset, outraged, shocked, in tears. He graciously did.
The longer version:
Poet Rustum Kozain informed the group I was talking to at the Sunday Times Prize Shortlist cocktail party that De Kock was an official guest and suggested calling this out on stage and confronting the organizers about how inappropriate this was.
People were visibly shaken and upset that he should be there unannounced, Sunday Times prize winner Claire Robertson wanted to rally the authors to stage a walk-out in protest.
Blackbird publisher Thabiso Mahlape was shaking and in tears. As she told BooksLive: “There, right in front of me, was the man who was responsible for the breaking of so many black men and as a result black families. I wept, I never expected that to happen; my own feelings overwhelmed me.”
There was talk of staging a walk-out in protest and in hindsight, we should have done that – because it would have been a powerful vote of solidarity and group action.
But I was angry that the writers should have to leave an event celebrating them.
I did check in with black writer friends and publishers there who fully supported my action, before I went ahead.
Writer and musician Nakhane Toure accompanied me in going over to talk to him.
I walked over to him standing by the stairs and asked if he was Eugene de Kock. I said, ‘It’s inappropriate that you are here. People are in tears that you are here and I think you should leave.’
He said ‘Thank you for telling me’, and left.
This story is not about me. It’s about the black writers and publishers (especially) who were traumatised by having him there. And the insensitivity of inviting him in the first place, to a private party, where people were not expecting to encounter him, and had not been forewarned or given the choice to boycott.
Yes, we need forgiveness and yes, he’s served his time.
We also need compassion and sensitivity about inviting him to a private party where there are people who have suffered terrible loss directly because of him.
It’s not fair to put people unknowingly in that situation.
As Karabo Kgoleng told News24:
“It’s a bad idea. Whether he was a foot solider or not, I think for him to have gumption to show up, the nerve, especially considering it was the Alan Paton prize…”
With the country’s social condition at the moment, and racists popping out of the woodwork, she felt it was terrible timing.
“My biggest worry is that we don’t want to lose the festival to that. We don’t want to lose the opportunity to talk about the things that hurt us.”
My friend novelist Carol Mashigo (who writes as Mohale Mashigo) said on her Facebook page, quoted with permission:
“I was telling friends that democratic South Africa is a wild place and nobody told us that killers would attend cocktail functions with you. I’m not ready for democratic South Africa. Tutu’s rainbow nation is WILD!”
The Franschhoek Literary Festival organizers were surprised and upset by his presence at the Sunday Times party.
Photo by SABC journalist Jacques Steenkamp from his Twitter feed.
Please note that the Sunday Times reporting that I “objected to the presence of Eugene de Kock at the festival and that he’d left by that time”, is untrue. It was his presence at the Sunday Times party I objected to and he left after I’d spoken to him.