Associated Press

April 27, 1997

Apartheid Killer Seeks Forgiveness

TRUST FEEDS, South Africa (AP) -- If song can open the heart, some family members and friends of the 11 dead sounded ready to forgive the convicted apartheid killer in their midst.

Brian Mitchell received amnesty for his crimes and had come to this small village in the troubled green hills of KwaZulu Natal on Sunday to ask for forgiveness and promote post-apartheid reconciliation, even though he was under no obligation to do so.

``I understand that giving forgiveness is not an easy thing to do,'' an obviously nervous Mitchell said. ``But I ask the community to consider forgiving me for what happened.''

Despite the 300 voices and the harmonic African hymns that opened the meeting near a community school not far from the killing site, it was clear after three hours in the midday sun that not everyone was ready to forgive and forget the politically-motivated massacre 8 1/2 years ago.

Only after the attack did police learn the wrong house had been targeted. A family of grieving relatives keeping a funeral vigil was hit instead.

``I lost my husband on that awful day in December 1988,'' Mavis Madondo cried. ``Now I am left with all these children. They cannot proceed with their education. How can you help?''

She returned to her seat and, along with a woman on crutches from injuries received in the raid, wept while another woman comforted them.

Mitchell, 39, the first former policeman to receive amnesty, was convicted in 1992 of 11 murders in the killings he led along with four constables.

His death sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison after the Constitutional Court outlawed capital punishment, an idea supported by the African National Congress government elected in the country's first all-race elections in 1994.

Over the community's objections, Mitchell was freed from prison late last year by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created to uncover apartheid-era abuses and grant amnesty for politically motivated crimes.

The panel found that Mitchell's crimes were part of a campaign against anti-apartheid groups.

The massacre targeted the United Democratic Front. It worked closely with the ANC, which was banned during apartheid.

The community rebuffed Mitchell's previous attempt to meet with some of the families, but his persistence brought about the gathering.

Commission officials moderated the meeting and arranged for 80 police and army officers to provide heavy security out of concern for Mitchell's safety.

As the hymns were sung, all eyes were on Mitchell, who sat at a lone chair. Later, he stood up and used a loudspeaker.

He spoke matter-of-factly as he thanked the community for letting him come and described his efforts through church groups to develop projects to help the community economically.

Mitchell said he could not support his own family because he lost his job after co-workers found out about his past.

Translators switched back and forth between Zulu and English as about 25 villagers stood up to ask questions. Some accepted the olive branch.

``I hope that what happens here today can be an example for other communities,'' Mitchell said.

Jabulisiwe Ngubane, whose mother was killed along with several children in the early-morning raid, said her faith in a forgiving God led her to open her heart.

``It is not easy but I must forgive him because he came forward and asked for forgiveness,'' she said.