A Fugard theatre production about apartheid assassin "Prime Evil" is on at the Market Theatre from 19 March to 6 April.
The play was first produced by Eric Abraham at The Hampstead Downstairs, London in May of 2013, and ran for a sold out five-week season. It was an "underground" workshop run without press attendance or critics. Social media comments from those who saw it were sensational and overwhelming.
1997. Pretoria Central Prison, South Africa. Psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela prepares to sit opposite the apartheid regime's most notorious assassin, Eugene de Kock – nicknamed "Prime Evil" – the head of the apartheid regime's death squads.
A member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Madizikela questions De Kock, who is serving a 212-year sentence for crimes against humanity, murder, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, and fraud. She is determined to try to understand what motivated De Kock's actions. One is reminded of European writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt's endeavour to understand the nature of evil when she wrote about the Nazi holocaust architect Adolf Eichman's trial in Israel in 1962.
How did De Kock become one of the most reviled figures in apartheid and indeed world history? Is Gobodo-Madikizela able to overcome her disgust and hate for this monster and find the human within? And will De Kock be prepared to open up and tell an educated black woman the truth? Or is he seeing her as someone who can help his campaign for a presidential pardon?
"A human being died that night" is based on Gobodo-Madizikela's Alan Paton award-winning best-selling book of the same name and explores, through her extraordinary prison interviews with De Kock, how a fundamentally moral person could become a mass murderer. She questions his continued imprisonment.
This associated production and season at the Market Theatre was made possible by a grant from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.
Bookings can be made at the Computicket and Market Theatre Box office on (011) 832 1641. Tickets cost only R79, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Block-booking discounts are available through Market Theatre Audience Development:
Performance times, Tuesday to Saturday @ 8:15pm
Sunday @ 3:15pm
Age restriction: Not suitable for children under 14
Directed by Jonathan Munby (SA & UK)
Associate director Greg Karvellas (SA)
Starring Noma Dumezweni and Matthew Marsh
Designer: Paul Wills
Lighting: Daniel Galloway (SA) and Tim Mitchell (UK)
Sound: James Webb (SA) and Christopher Shutt (UK)
Noma Dumezweni is a highly regarded Swazi born British stage, film and TV actress who won the Laurence Olivier Award for her supporting role in Lorraine Hansberry's "Raisin in the Son" (Young Vic and Lyric Theatre). Matthew Marsh is one of Britain's foremost actors with credits that range from "The Iron Lady" with Meryl Streep, to the hit BBC TV series "Spooks".
Based on Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela's interviews with Eugene de Kock, "A Human Being Died That Night" explores how a fundamentally moral person can become a mass murderer. Here's a potted history of Eugene de Kock and his role in the apartheid regime.
29 January 1949
Eugene Alexander de Kock was born to Lawrence de Kock, a magistrate and personal friend of apartheid Prime Minister John Vorster. De Kock, a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, indoctrinated his sons in Afrikaner nationalist ideology and taught them "strict Afrikaans" as they grew up.
De Kock had a long-standing ambition to become a South African police officer. After finishing school, he attempted to join the South African Defence Force, but was disqualified because of a stutter. De Kock then joined his brother as a member of the South African Police (SAP) where he tried to join the organisation's elite Special Task Force. Again he was rejected, this time because of poor eyesight.
During the latter stages of the Rhodesian Bush War, De Kock was deployed to Rhodesia to defend its white population against the Communist supported ZAP and ZANU guerilla armies of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.
De Kock co-founded Koevoet, an SAP counter-insurgency unit tasked with combating SWAPO guerillas in South-West Africa during the Namibian War of Independence. Koevoet became notorious for its high enemy kill rate and for its alleged but well chronicled atrocities against local Namibian peoples.
The SAP transferred De Kock to C10, a counter-insurgency unit headquartered at a farm called Vlakplaas, located 20 kilometres west of Pretoria. De Kock, who had established a reputation for bravery and commitment during his tours in Rhodesia and Namibia, was promoted as the unit's commanding officer two years later. Under De Kock's leadership, C10 – later known as C1 – became a death squad which hunted down and killed opponents of the National Party and the apartheid system.
Upon being convicted two years after a democratic South Africa came into being, Eugene de Kock was sentenced to 212 years in prison for crimes against humanity. The eighty-nine charges included six counts of murder, as well as conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, and fraud. De Kock is serving his sentence in the C Max section of the Pretoria Central Prison.
De Kock first became prominent during his testimony in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), during which he made multiple revelations relating to ANC deaths. At the end of his testimony, he apologised, saying: "I wish to apologise to Cosatu and the SACC on behalf of myself and my men for the hurt, disruption, paranoia and other psychological effects of the blasts." He accepted full responsibility for "everyone at my level and downwards, but not upwards". At the trial, he famously called on South Africans to turn away from hatred and revenge and to avoid "finger-pointing", and added that "in time things will sort themselves out".
De Kock made several pleas for forgiveness to the relatives of his victims. In January, he wrote a letter to the family of Bheki Mlangeni, apologising for killing the ANC attorney in a 1991 bomb attack; Mlangeni's mother, Catherine, doubted De Kock's sentiments due to his prior lack of remorse. In February, De Kock had a meeting in prison with Marcia Khoza, confessing that he had personally executed her mother, Portia Shabangu, in an ambush in 1989. Khoza publicly forgave De Kock.