In the jaws of "the Big Crocodile"
On the morning of November 15,
1988, a young ex-policeman, Barend Hendrik Strydom, drove past Church
Square. He was looking for someone to kill. Someone black.'
Outside the Palace of justice
where ambassadors and church leaders, television crews and celebrities,
lawyers and family members were gathering to hear the judge deliver
his verdict on those accused in the Delmas Trial, Church Square
was full of policemen and Strydom saw few blacks. He drove on, looking
for more. Two blocks from the court, he found some. He parked, taking
care to pay the meter. He did not want to do anything illegal. Then,
laughing, he shot an eighty-eight year old woman, an Indian storekeeper,
and another woman waiting in a hospital bus. He shot twenty-two
people. Seven died.
A week before, he had practiced
at a squatters camp, shooting two women, "to see if I was physically
capable of killing people." One died.
At first most people thought
the rampage had nothing to do with the Delmas Trial, but at Strydoms
trial another picture emerged. Strydom had come to Church Square
looking for friends of the Delmas defendants. He hoped to kill Allan
Boesak, President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and
a patron of the United Democratic Front, the organization the trial
was designed to crush.
Strydom, son of a policeman
and an ex-policeman himself, belonged to a political party, the
AWB, that admires the Nazis and holds rallies displaying three-legged
swastikas. He said he was head of a secret society called the White
Wolves, which has claimed credit for bombing the headquarters of
the South African Council of Churches, the Southern African Catholic
Bishops Conference, and other buildings housing anti-apartheid organizations.
(The police had been noticeably unable to bring to court people
responsible for violence against anti-apartheid institutions and
people. Some believed the police themselves were responsible.)
Strydom explained, "Each
black person threatens the continued existence of whites, even an
eighty-eight-yearold woman. They are known to breed very fast."
He added, "Scientists have shown that oxygen is decreasing.
They are threatening the life of the entire planet."
Strydom is not alone. Supporters
attended his trial wearing the nineteenth-century dress of the Voortrekkers,
the forebears whose penetration of the interior sets the patterns
of Afrikaner myth and identity Another supporter, inspired by the
trial, threatened to shoot black workers at the plant where he works
as a supervisor. When Strydom was found guilty, newspapers received
letters calling him a 11 martyr of the third freedom war,"
and demanding that his death penalty be commuted.
On the morning of the Delmas
verdict, while Strydom was doing his bloody business nearby, a few
minutes before the defendants went up to the courtroom crowded with
observers and police, Lekota, one of the prisoners in the holding
cell under the courtroom, was writing a letter to a friend.
Today we are receiving judgement.
Earlier on I had some anxiety for my family. All my years are going
to our struggle, and the question must cross their minds as to whether
I still remember my obligations toward them. But now, all that has
suddenly changed into unbridled rage with this system of South African
law. This past week, an Afrikaner bully, Jacobus Vorster, was fined
[ $1,200] for tying an African laborer to a tree and beating him
to death. He was then released to go back to his farm with an order
that he pay the widow [ $431 per month for five years. The laborer
(deceased) had accidentally killed Vorster's one dog and injured
another one ... African life remains extremely cheap in this country.
That "system of South African
law" was about to pronounce on him and eighteen -others tried
on capital charges of treason and other crimes listed in an indictment
of more than 360 pages. Charges against three defendants originally
included in the indictment had been dropped.
Optioned for feature-length movie.
of play by David Gullette, Poets’ Theatre Production, 1994.
" ...Moss abundantly
documents this excellent account of the 1980s political uprisings in South
October 26, 1990
"Rose Moss... has written a revealing book. Shouting at the Crocodile offers an optimistic glimpse of the new South Africa waiting to be born."
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, 1990