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Apartheid hit squad chief dies

The former commander of a South African apartheid hit squad that carried out assassinations for the white minority regime, has died, his hospital said Thursday.

Dirk Coetzee was chief, from 1980 to 1981, of the secret “Vlakplaas” unit which was set up on a farm near Pretoria to fight anti-apartheid insurgents.

He passed away Wednesday, according to the Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria.

“He died of kidney failure,” a hospital spokeswoman told AFP.

Coetzee was the first white police officer to lift the lid on the death squad which operated in teams targeting opponents of the apartheid government.

“It was just another job to be done,” Coetzee had told journalist and author Jacques Pauw about how his team shot dead two ANC cadres.

He also told of the police officers building two fires — one to burn the bodies and another to barbeque meat on.

“In the beginning it smells like a normal braai (barbecue), but by the end all you can smell are the burning bones,” Pauw quoted Coetzee as saying in his book “Dances with devils”.

Pauw’s former newspaper Vrye Weekblad broke the story in 1989.

Coetzee then went into exile and returned to the country before democracy in 1994.

He was granted amnesty in 1997 for the killing of lawyer Griffiths Mxenge by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was set up to probe apartheid atrocities.

Mxenge was abducted, stabbed and struck on the head with a wheel spanner. He was disembowelled, his throat cut, ears nearly cut off and his body had 45 lacerations and stab wounds.

The commission found that Coetzee, and two partners, had acted on orders of the police security branch.

Coetzee later served in the intelligence services of the government of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president elected in 1994.

Madeleine Fullard, a state investigator, said Coetzee could have still been of help in finding the remains of activists who disappeared during apartheid regime.

“Just heard that former Vlakplaas commander Dirk Coetzee has died. Still needed him to point out one last site,” she tweeted late Wednesday.