Dirk Coetzee

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Person.png Dirk Coetzee   PowerbaseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
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BornDirk Johannes Coetzee
15 April 1945
Died7 March 2013 (Age 67)

Dirk Coetzee was a former South African security police captain who commanded the notorious Vlakplaas unit that was created to track down and eliminate opponents of the apartheid regime.[1]

Dirk Coetzee quit the police in 1986 and shortly after leaving South Africa in November 1989 was interviewed in Mauritius by Vrye Weekblad, an Afrikaans-language weekly newspaper. He revealed that Vlakplaas had five hit squads, including his, and had carried out attacks in Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Britain, as well as inside South Africa:

"We operated in civilian dress and were armed with the strangest weaponry and explosive devices. We operated underground and were not recognizable as policemen."

Eugene de Kock, also a former commander of Vlakplaas, was convicted in 1997 of attempting to murder Coetzee.[2]


The victims of Coetzee's team included Griffiths Mxenge, a Durban lawyer stabbed to death in 1981. The following year Coetzee said his unit broke into the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mbabane, Swaziland, and stole whatever we could find. One of the official envelopes they took, he said, was later used by police Major Craig Williamson to mail the letter bomb that killed anti-apartheid activist Ruth First in Maputo, Mozambique, in August 1982.

On another assignment, Coetzee was issued with a Scorpion machine pistol concealed in a briefcase and ordered to kill Marius Schoon, an ANC member living in Botswana. Following a warning from Wilfred Jones, British High Commissioner in Botswana, that Marius Schoon was a target for assassination by the apartheid government security forces, the Schoon family moved to Angola via Lusaka, Zambia. Coetzee's mission was thus thwarted and other plans were made by Major Williamson who sent a letter bomb that killed Schoon's wife, Jeannette, and daughter Katryn in Angola in June 1984.

On the run

Following the Vrye Weekblad interview, Coetzee went on the run, staying in 38 houses in four countries – including a spell in London, where he joined the ANC and expressed his support for Nelson Mandela. He returned to South Africa in 1993 and was among the first to apply for amnesty with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when it was created and was granted amnesty on 4 August 1997:

"I decided to confess to cleanse my conscience. I think with contempt of the things that I did."[3]

Loyalist plot

In November 1996, Dirk Coetzee testified to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission about an Ulster loyalist involvement in a plot on his life in London in 1992.[4]

Were there any other attempts on your life? — There was - well, one well documented one in Britain, Mr Chairman, when on the 11th of April 1992 Captain Pamela du Rand and Lieutenant Leon Flores met with the Ulster Royalists, terrorists in Northern Ireland, to negotiate a contract murder on my life. They were eventually arrested on the 15th of April 1992 by Scotland Yard, and held at the Paddington Green Police Station under the Terrorism Act. A lot of communiques went out between the ... (incomplete - end of Side A, Tape 3) ... of all these attempts, and to know that I am one step ahead.[5]

Willem Nortje also testified to the Commission about the plot:

One evening I was at Flores' home when we met Simpson, and there it was not directly stated, I don't know what Flores and Simpson spoke about, but I came to know through Mr de Kock that he would launch an action to get to Mr Coetzee via the Irish Organisation, RUC or something like that.

According to Nortje, the assassination was to be procured by Charlie Simpson, an Ulster loyalist who the South Africans believed to be a British agent:

MR LAX: And I didn't catch the full extent of your evidence in relation to that incident and I just wanted to re-canvass it with you please. What exactly did you pick up from Simpson on that night in relation to their discussion? What was his task?
MR NORTJE: You must just remember that we knew he was an MI6 agent. Mr de Kock handled him with care, he also did not trust him so he wouldn't have told him directly what we wanted, but after the discussion and after we left, there was talk about the fact that he had contacts with this group in Ireland who did this type of work and that is the assassination of a person, so that was still the beginning of the process, so far as I can remember, they just talked about it.[6]

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  2. "AI Report 1997: South Africa". Amnesty International. Retrieved 18 May 2007.Page Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css must have content model "Sanitized CSS" for TemplateStyles (current model is "CSS").
  3. "Statement From the TRC on Amnesty Granted to Dirk Coetzee"
  4. A Very British Jihad, Collusion, Conspiracy & Cover-up in Northern Ireland, by Paul Larkin, Beyond the Pale, 2004, p199.
  5. "Proceedings held at Durban on 5 November 1996"
  6. "Amnesty Transcript Hearing"