Three decades later: A quest for closure on the steps of Strijdom Square
Bradley Steyn witnessed the slaughter of black people by white supremacist Barend Strydom at Strijdom Square in Pretoria when he was a teenager. Now, as he seeks to find closure three decades later, he has received death threats after he spoke about the murder of his brother-in-law on the family farm in Nelspruit on the 2nd October 2018. Steyn was 17 in November 1988 when the so-called Wit Wolf massacred eight black people. Strydom – who was given amnesty in 1992 – was wearing Army camouflage and bearing a 9mm pistol such as those used by the apartheid police when he went on his horror killing spree.
Now based in the United States as a security specialist, Steyn was back home to work on a commemorative event of the massacre, to honour the victims and survivors, of which he is one. Just days after he arrived in the country, his brother-in-law, John Bosman (61), was murdered on his strawberry farm in Mpumalanga. Steyn, who is also in the final stages of work on an American-produced documentary about his experiences as a massacre survivor, former apartheid police spy and then Umkhonto we Sizwe operative, decided to make a video about the devastating effects crime is having on his home country. Telling the story of how three men entered the farmhouse and then killed Bosman by stabbing and shooting him, Steyn cut an emotional figure.
He posted the video which received thousands of views but was then attacked by the white right-wing for failing to acknowledge his earlier work for and allegiance to the ANC and for not focusing on what it calls white genocide.
Steyn, a white Afrikaner, spoke about how crime affects all South Africans and did not isolate white farmers as being particular targets for criminals. He did, however, implore those watching his video to approach politicians and public representatives wherever they were in the world, to lobby the South African government to do better in protecting its citizens.
“In the message I posted, I’m not going with the narrative that only white farmers are being targeted for murder. I’m concerned about the violence in general and crime being totally out of control in my country.”
“Now I’m getting death threats from these right-wing groups peddling lies that there’s ethnic cleansing of white farmers. I’m now being branded a traitor of the white nation and a supporter of Communists.” “The threats also followed after some right-wing groups discovered that I was part of the ANC underground intelligence structures. They picked this up from an article published in an Afrikaans newspaper recently.”
“Yes, I was angry about the murder of my brother-in-law, but I have to be objective. He created more than 120 jobs and all these lives have been changed forever. All this happens while I’m trying to find closure. I may live in America, but I’m a patriotic South African. I won’t be intimidated by the fringe extremists on the right, or left, of our campaign to honour the legacy of those who died during the struggle for national liberation.”
Included among the threatening messages was one which stated that Steyn was “well- remunerated as a proud spy for the ANC. Now suddenly is he trying to make a plea for help. I am sorry, but I cannot feel sorry for him. My sympathy goes out to his family; however, I only share my sentiment for fellow Afrikaners why fight for the survival of our nation.”
Another said that Steyn showed “the arrogance of traitors to seek for sympathy after terrorists caused him harm. Major General Jeremy Veary (SAPS) who recruited Steyn along with Gen Andre Lincoln who just won an appeal to take on the minister of police wrote a message of support to Bradley via his Facebook account: Tiled: A RIGHTEOUS BETRAYAL
Somewhere on Facebook you will read a post by Brad Steyn on the recent murder of his brother-in-law on a farm in Mpumalanga. There was the usual litany of condolences, but then something took a dark turn in the commentary to his posts when Brad revealed that he was a member of the ANC.
Even worse for some, he declared that he had worked with Jeremy Vearey and Andre Lincoln from the ANC’s Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS) in the early 1990’s as an infiltration asset inside the then Security Police and not only that, Brad mentioned that his and Mark Fine’s forthcoming book ‘Undercover with Mandela’s Spies’, is about this covert relationship.
A covert engagement in which attempts by right-wing elements within the Security Police to destabilise the ANC through ‘third force’ activity were successfully thwarted as well as other enemy agents exposed.
Whatever your couch warrior and desktop soldier detractors might pontificate Brad, they were not there in the covert trenches of that very dirty war of which some of us still bear scars. They will never know the risks you and Niel de Beer faced under the psychopathic unpredictability of your paranoid Security Police commanding officer who tasked you and Niel to destabilise DIS in the Western Cape. And, neither after your recruitment by Andre and I, what it took to keep both you and Niel alive while feeding us with vital information that helped us stay the just course.
While it is unusual for me to talk about our mutual covert past, I support your and Niel’s efforts to tell your truth, even if it reveals that past with all its shadows. And as for those who cry that you have betrayed your ’white heritage’, in my book you remain a principled patriot.
Yours was a righteous betrayal of an illegitimate regime. I am honoured to have been your operational guide during those troubled times and will remain that during your time of loss now. End
Along with a message from his widowed sister Leigh Bosman stating: in support of Veary statement; To all of you who crisis my brother for standing for unity. Please read this first. He is not taking sides. He stands against violence and unjust behaviour regardless of race and colour. Ends
Jacana publishers will be releasing Steyn’s memoir next year, which relates how Strijdom Square and, subsequently, his work with the apartheid security police profoundly affected his mental health, creating an ongoing battle to overcome post- traumatic stress syndrome and other effects induced by what he witnessed. Although his later work for MK assisted his attempts at recovery, Steyn believes he may never be completely free of his debilitating symptoms.
But his intention through the planned commemoration was to acknowledge and reach out to other survivors who are surely experiencing either the name mental disorders as himself or are unable to fully recover in other ways. Steyn believes not enough, or any, assistance has been given by the State to massacre survivors and other victims of crime.
He received no psychological attention after the massacre, and was then enrolled by his parents into the apartheid Permanent Force, serving in the Navy and then on the Caprivi strip as a 17- and 18-year-old with emotional difficulties
Among the greatest challenges was that Steyn had to provide shelter to a man who had been shot twice or three times by Strydom on the day, keeping the man cradled in his lap while the man battled to stay alive. Strydom engaged Steyn during that terror encounter, justifying his shooting spree as being for the future of whites. Strydom spared Steyn because he was also white.
Although Steyn has sought to meet Strydom several times in recent years, Strydom has not made himself available for that. He lives near Hartebeespoort outside Pretoria where he works as an artisan and artist.
Strydom was eventually overpowered on the day of the massacre through an extraordinary act of bravery by taxi driver Simon Mukondeleli, who seized the opportunity when Strydom was changing his magazine on a shop counter and put his gun down. Mukondeleli distracted Strydom, picked up the gun and pointed it at the killer, who then put his hands in the air.
Strydom was, however, never remorseful and was regarded as a martyr for the Boer nation by his white supremacist followers. He was granted amnesty as part of a reconciliatory deal between the apartheid government and, largely, the ANC which saw Strydom effectively swopped for Robert McBride, the current Independent Police Investigations Directorate (IPID) head who planted a bomb at Magoos Bar in Durban which resulted in the deaths of three women and the injuries of dozens of others.
Strydoms’ massacre also resulted in injuries to many other black people. But while South Africa was privy to the names and details about the three (white) women killed by McBrideS bomb, the victims of the Strijdom Square massacre remain unacknowledged or named. It is Steyn’s wish that a plaque be installed on Lilian Ngoyi Square, as Strijdom Square is now known, to pay tribute to the lives of the dead.
“My life changed dramatically. I was depressed and subsequently dropped out of school. My parents did not know what to do with me. They decided to send me to a psychiatrist for counselling, but that didn’t help. I joined the Navy. I didn’t like it. I left the Navy and went to Cape Town and met Neil de Beer, who was with MK, and (the late, notorious gangster) Cyril Beeka, who was a good guy back in the day.
Steyn was privy to top secret information and infiltrated the Afrikanerweerstandsbeweging (AWB) where he became close to and lived with supremacists within its paramilitary, the Iron Guard.
He started writing his memoir with his friend, Mark Fine, another South African living in Los Angeles, 11 years ago. “I feel the trauma and things that I witnessed might be able to help other people with healing and with their mental health,” he says.
But while his brother-in-law’s murder and the threats on Steyn’s own life from the very community out of which Strydom emerged, may have set him back, he is determined to continue with his hope of reaching out to other South Africans embattled through crime.
“This is my beloved country. This was my brother-in-law John’s beloved country and his wife, Leigh, my sister, won’t leave. I can’t unentangle myself from my history here. I want to keep going not only to try and work through my mental health issues, but to reach out to as many other compatriots as possible going through the same thing,” adds Steyn.
Ayanda Mdluli is a contributor for Voices360