Tuesday, October 16, 2012
‘I’d just make sure I killed more of them’
‘I’d just make sure I killed more of them’
by Stephen Timm, October 16 2012, 05:36
KILL SHOT: Arn Durand says wrote his new book about Koevoet ‘for the hell of it’. Picture: TREVOR SAMSONFOR almost six years, Arn Durand was part of one of SA’s biggest killing machines, attacking villagers, mowing down guerrilla fighters in the dense bush of northern Namibia and southern Angola and executing prisoners.
Twenty-five years on, with the release of Zulu Zulu Foxtrot (Zebra Press), his second book detailing his experiences with police counterinsurgency unit Koevoet, he remains unapologetic, despite his claims of having been involved in the killing of about 300 people.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found Koevoet — which claims to have killed about 3,800 South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo) soldiers — responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Koevoet’s aim was simple: to kill as many Swapo operatives as possible.
Durand served with Koevoet from 1982 to 1987 and was involved in numerous dirty tricks, including disguising members as Swapo operatives, who were sent into villages to uncover and shoot supporters, in what Durand refers to as "pacification through assassination".
"I’m not sorry for what I did. If I had to go back I’d do it again, I’d just make sure I killed more of them," says Durand.
Not surprisingly after the release of his first book, Zulu Zulu Golf, many branded him a war criminal, while others called him a traitor. But he said he and his fellow unit members, who often get together over a few beers to reminisce about the Koevoet days, were unmoved.
"None of us are apologising for what we did — we did what we did. My motive for writing the book was purely to tell it as honestly, as accurately and as reliably as possible. I had no agenda other than that. I just sat and wrote it exactly as it was, and I leave it up to the reader to decide on the morality."
He says he has no hatred towards those he was tasked with killing: "I always say hatred makes you blind and you can’t shoot straight. I would have been quite willing to put down my gun and open a case of beers with my enemy."
Some of his former enemies are now some of his best friends, he claims, referring to a former Swapo commander, now in Namibian intelligence, who is also writing a book about the dubious things Swapo was involved in — including executing a captured South African Defence Force helicopter crew.
But even so, he suspects the former commander might be trying to build a case against him, as he recently asked Durand if he still had any photos of Swapo members killed by Koevoet, photos he says he has long since destroyed. Perhaps he has reason to be circumspect, with Swapo’s youth league having threatened to take him to the International Criminal Court (despite the court only being allowed to prosecute cases that took place after 2002).
But Durand claims he has a knack for talking himself out of trouble. A few months ago, he was part of a political forum in Namibia, where speaker after speaker laid into him. It was his impression that, after 20 years, youth in Namibia have no idea what really took place.
"The main one who attacked me the most, a woman, now wants to meet and have dinner with me to talk about it. They wanted me to establish a national platform for reconciliation in Namibia and I’ve won them all over, and the letters are streaming in."
He says the country’s education department was even interested in turning his book into a set work for schoolchildren, but that he convinced them otherwise.
Durand tells of how, back in the early 1980s, he bribed a sergeant with two bottles of whisky to help him join other police members on a counterinsurgency training exercise, because he was bored with his job as a policeman at the law courts in Durban. After that, he never looked back.
"I liked living on the edge, I wanted to see how close I could come to death and survive it, that became like a drug."
When he returned to the courts, he bribed the same sergeant with another two bottles of whisky to get sent to a counterinsurgency base in Namibia. There he helped investigate activities linked to Swapo and learned of the rapes, murders of opposition members and abduction of schoolchildren from eyewitnesses.
"And I thought they were wrong, although that wasn’t the main reason I decided to fight them (Swapo). For all I care, I could’ve fought on either side, just for the hell of it. I certainly wasn’t there defending our northern borders against the evil communist onslaught that most people were being indoctrinated by PW Botha. I just thought Swapo was full of s**t and that it was a nice fight and time to jump in," he chuckles.
While serving with Koevoet he met Eugene de Kock. Despite being fearful of his anger, he still praises the former Vlakplaas commander who, in 1996, was sentenced to 212 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
"A lot of people don’t understand Gene (Eugene) de Kock. He’s an aggressive person by nature, but also a very caring person. He’s one of the most antiracist people you’ll ever come across," he says, pointing out how he slapped a child for using the "k" word.
Today he even chats on Facebook with De Kock, who he says goes under an alias to bypass prison regulations. Now he believes it is time to release him: "He won’t be a threat to anyone. They should let him go and help contribute to our history and allow him to tell his whole story truthfully and honestly, like I did."
Since leaving Koevoet, many of his fellow members have committed suicide, withdrawn from society or turned to the bottle. Even Durand didn’t come back unaffected. But he maintains that he dealt with his problems after receiving early retirement from the police in 1991 when he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I saw a psychologist, went on medication, had therapy for six months and I was fine. But as I always say, from time to time the devil and his demons creep up through my soul." Even now you can’t help noticing his anxious look and how he trembles when he talks.
Durand turned to writing after his eldest daughter began studying journalism, which encouraged him to begin putting together a few short stories.
Earlier this year, Durand contributed the proceeds from a Durban book launch to members of the Cato Manor organised crime squad, who were arrested earlier this year over allegations of extrajudicial killings. He even wears a T-shirt proclaiming the defence of the men and his view is clear: "There’s only one way you’re going to deal with that organised, serious violent crime, there’s only one way to combat it, and you can’t do it by the book … you’ve got to fight crime with crime."
Although he admits he "isn’t 100%" and that he drinks and smokes too much, he believes he’s been able to lead a productive life — with a job, raising children without his wife and even writing books.
"A lot of people ask me why I wrote the book. I still don’t know why I did, probably because for the same reason I joined Koevoet, I don’t know why, I just did, for the hell of it."