Dubbed “Prime Evil” by those under his command for the efficiency of his methods of killing those fighting against apartheid, De Kock – now 65 -was also the highest-ranking security official to testify with candour before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Born on January 29, 1949 in George, Western Cape, De Kock’s father, Lawrence, was a magistrate and member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, instilling rightwing values into his son from a young age.
He was rejected from both the SA Defence Force and then the police’s special task force for a stutter and poor eyesight.
Working in the police, he was involved in both suppressing uprisings in both then-Rhodesia and South West Africa.
In 1983, he was transferred to C10, a police counter-insurgency unit based on the farm Vlakplaas, outside Pretoria.
Two years later De Kock was made commander of the unit, which became known as C1. It became infamous for the kidnapping, torture and murder of many anti-apartheid activists.
After South Africa became a democracy in 1994, De Kock testified before the TRC, providing details of incidents that had until then largely been shrouded in mystery.
He testified about more than 100 crimes he was involved in and pointed fingers at the apartheid government for its complicity in C1’s activities.
In a media interview in 2007, De Kock suggested the last apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk, had hands “soaked in blood” for ordering political killings.
In De Kock’s TRC testimony details emerged of the techniques used to kill activists, including using letter bombs and booby-trapping headphones and vehicles.
“We were used to torture methods such as electrocution, the helicopter method, burning, breaking arms, assault, sjambokking, tubing, and wet bags,” De Kock explained at one TRC hearing.
In the helicopter method a victim is cuffed by the ankles and wrists and suspended upside down from a pole between two tables.
The corpses of those killed would often be incinerated on the farm, where officers also held braais and drank heavily.
While De Kock was granted amnesty for some of the crimes; the TRC found that others could not be justified as politically motivated. In 1996 he was sentenced to two life terms plus 212 years after being found guilty on 89 charges including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, assault, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, and fraud.
He first served time at Pretoria C-Max prison before being moved to Pretoria Central prison in 1997,
During his amnesty hearings and in jail, De Kock tried to reach out to his victims and apologise for his role in apartheid’s atrocities.
In an amnesty hearing about nine people killed in the 1985 Maseru raid; De Kock said if he were the relatives of the victims he would want to see himself dead.
“If I was in their position I would like to take my life,” De Kock said at the time.
In 2010, it emerged that De Kock had met President Jacob Zuma the previous year, reportedly to ask for a presidential pardon, although this was never confirmed.
A parole hearing scheduled for December 2011 was postponed indefinitely and a previous parole request was denied in May 2013.
The issue of parole for De Kock divided the public.
Some argued he should be released because it was unfair that he languish in jail while others who committed atrocities escaped sanction. He had also shown remorse.
Others remained vehemently opposed to a pardon, including ANC veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
“[De Kock’s release] is a subject I cannot even consider. I lost too much. I saw too much blood to support such a move,” she said in a media interview in 2010.
Nevertheless, psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela whose book “A Human Being Died That Night”, based on interviews with De Kock in jail, suggested he could not simply be dismissed as a psychopath.
“Bad he was, but mad he wasn’t, not at all,” she said.
“He was looked up to by the entire country as a fixer. He was the kingpin in the machinery of destruction.”
In an interview in 2004, Gobodo-Madikizela said she would grant De Kock a pardon.
“He has been visited by the widows of some of his victims. He is an example of how dialogue can happen,” she said.