Webster, an anthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, was gunned down in 1989 outside his home in Troyeville, Johannesburg.
Almost a decade later, Barnard was convicted of the killing. He was also found guilty of the attempted murder of another activist, Dullah Omar, who went on to serve in both former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s cabinets.
Barnard was given two life terms plus a further 63 years in jail, and is currently serving time in Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru II Prison.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Michael Masutha said he would announce his decision on Barnard’s parole application — as well as the applications of imprisoned former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock and former MP Clive Derby-Lewis — on January 30 (Friday).
At the time of Webster’s murder, Barnard was operating as an undercover agent for the notorious CCB, an organisation established by former defence minister Magnus Malan in 1986, and tasked with “infiltration and penetration of the enemy”.
Malan told the TRC in 1997 that the killing of the government’s political opponents, including Webster, had never formed part of the former SA Defence Force’s policy, and that he had never authorised political assassinations.
However, the TRC found that the CCB, in the course of its operations, “perpetrated gross violations of human rights, including killings, against both South African and non-South African citizens”.
In Barnard’s 1998 trial, Pretoria High Court Judge Johan Els found that he had confessed to Webster’s murder to 11 State witnesses, without being forced to do so.
He described Barnard as a man who clearly “talked too much”, saying it was highly unlikely that he would have made such confessions to the witnesses if they were not the truth.
In an article published in the Mail&Guardian newspaper later that year, journalist Jacques Pauw described how Barnard had confessed to him that he had killed Webster.
“I testified [in the trial] how Barnard had told me, in October 1996, that Webster ‘flew through the air’ after he had fired 16 coarse-grained shotgun pellets into his body.
“When Barnard confessed to me, he was intoxicated on the large amount of crack and cocaine he had consumed, but his speech was composed and sensible.”
Ferdinand Barnard matriculated from Roodepoort high school in 1975. He joined the SAP in January the next year, where he remained until 1984.
In that same year, according to Barnard’s testimony in 2000 before the TRC’s amnesty hearings, “I was sentenced to 20 years due to murder and other offences”.
However, he apparently served only three years of this sentence before being released on parole, and was immediately recruited to the CCB.
In the same testimony, Barnard described how he shot Webster after waiting for the activist in a car outside his house.
“We [Barnard was with CCB agent Calla Botha] waited approximately 45 minutes, perhaps even 50 minutes, then Dr Webster’s bakkie came past us from the back and stopped in front of the house, at the residence in Eleanor street…”
Barnard told the TRC he then cocked his shotgun, slipped the safety catch, and both men pulled balaclavas over their heads while waiting for Webster to get out of his vehicle.
“We moved towards him very slowly. We were approximately two metres away from him. He was standing with his back towards me. I called him by his name. I said: ‘Webster’.
“He then turned around; as he did so, I stuck the shotgun out the [car] window and shot him at point blank range. I fired one shot, Dr Webster collapsed on the ground, we drove away.”