Mark Minnie: A sloppy, negligent and careless policeman

Jacques Pauw: 6 September 2018

The Lost Boys of Bird Island by Tafelberg Publishers.

It is with trepidation and after much brooding that I give my take on authors Mark Minnie and Chris Steyn's revelations that a Port Elizabeth (PE) paedophile ring penetrated the highest echelons of the apartheid government in the '80s.

I want the allegations to be true; to demonstrate the final, ultimate depravity of men in grey suits and grey shoes that destroyed the lives of millions of my countrymen and brought us to the brink of civil war.

This is especially true of Magnus Malan, apartheid's ultimate hawk and architect of the total onslaught ideology that enabled the regime to murder their political opponents and oppress black people.

Many readers – and non-readers – of The Lost Boys of Bird Island embrace the allegations that Malan and his cronies raped underage "coloured" boys because they argue that an evil system like apartheid most probably spawned such unsavoury beasts.

It is almost dangerous to challenge the allegations in the book as it may brand you a Magnus sympathiser or apologist. It is the last thing I want to be known as.

I have since the late '80s exposed various elements of Malan's murderous military operations and wrote two books about apartheid's death squads.

I have always said that if there was one apartheid leader that deserved to rot in prison, it was Magnus Malan.

I initially decided not to read The Lost Boys of Bird Island as the allegations in the book were – like for many journalists of my age – not new.

I then received a call from a helicopter pilot that was based at PE's 16 Squadron Air Force base at the time that the boys alleged that they were flown in army helicopters to Bird Island where Malan and his cronies raped them. I also spoke to a second helicopter pilot.

They both cast cold water on the allegations, but their evidence will be (wrongly, I believe) rejected because they served apartheid.

This is despite one of the pilots that said he was abused as a child and wanted to believe it. He today lives abroad and is a CEO of a company.

They agreed that the boys wouldn't have been flown by helicopter. There were simply too many eyes and it would have attracted too much attention.

A Puma has two pilots, a flight engineer and there is a ground crew. There would have been passenger manifests. Pilots would have spoken among one another about boys being flown to the island.

I then received a call from an old police friend; a highly credible and experienced lawman with no ideological or political sentiments. Read carefully how co-author Mark Minnie conducted his investigation, he told me. Your eyes will open.

I then read The Lost Boys – an Afrikaans copy because the English version was sold out. By then, Minnie was dead, the result of him pointing a pistol at his head and pulling the trigger.

Although many believe it was a hit, the acclaimed forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow, appointed by the family to investigate Minnie's death, has found it was suicide.

The book provides prima facie evidence of a paedophile ring in the '80s in PE and that Mark Minnie spoke to child victims and opened a docket.

There is evidence that the ring had as its central villain diver and businessman Dave Allen who procured boys for a band of paedophiles.

According to Steyn and Minnie, Magnus Malan, John Wiley and another, living former NP cabinet minister that they don't identify, raped these boys.

Former apartheid minister Barend du Plessis has identified himself as the unnamed paedophile and has denied the allegations.

The book hinges on the credibility of Minnie and Steyn. One must trust the existence and revelations of their numerous unnamed sources to believe the book. I have serious problems with the integrity of especially Minnie.

Judged on his account of his investigation, Minnie is no hero. He was a sloppy, negligent and careless policeman that botched his own investigation.

Minnie portrays himself as a Benny Griessel-type (Griessel is Deon Meyer's hero-cop) of policeman: an uncompromising, hard-drinking and bar-fighting cop that often went to work with headaches and hangovers.

The book almost starts with a bar scene where he pummelled an oke built like an ox into dreamland with an ashtray. He also broke the scoundrel's nose.

I am not sure why Minnie thought it necessary to entertain us with his bar shenanigans, but it was while having a broken finger that he interviewed a 14-year-old "coloured" boy that revealed the existence of Allen's paedophile ring to him.

The boy told him that Allen had recruited he and his brother to have sex with older, white men.

The boy said his brother had been brutally sexually assaulted by one of the men and was in hospital.

Minnie visited the other boy in hospital who had been shot in his anus by one of the men – it later turned out to be Magnus Malan. He was rushed to a "whites-only" hospital for emergency medical treatment.

The boy refused to speak to Minnie who decided to "trick" him. He told him that his injury was of such a nature that he might well have contracted HIV/Aids from one of the men. But don't worry, he told the boy, if you co-operate I will make sure that you get the anti-retroviral AZT when it becomes available in South Africa.

He left the boy to stew in the knowledge that he might be HIV positive and went to a bar to drink double whiskies and soda.

Minnie acted almost criminally. Imagine the trauma that the boy was going through? A sadist had sexually penetrated him with a pistol and shot him. As though that was not enough, a cop told him he might contract Aids and would only be treated if he co-operated with the investigation. I am sure Minnie's action flouted every police rule and it might well have been illegal to treat a minor in such a manner.

The boy later agreed to speak to Minnie (to get his AZT treatment) and said they were flown in army helicopters to Bird Island where they were raped. The boy bared the existence of a particularly cruel paedophile that he called "Ore" – Ears. It was Malan, the man that had shot him.

Minnie concluded that the boys had been to hell and back, trapped in a sinister world where they were abused by men.

And yet, he does nothing to ensure their welfare or safety. These were children that were on drugs, drank heavily, were prostitutes and were regularly raped. A policeman is legally and morally bound to assist a neglected and needy child to get to a place of safety – probably by involving social welfare.

Yet, Minnie did nothing and left them to their own accord, prompting him to ask 30 years later: "I often wonder about the boy that was secretly treated in hospital. Did he survive, and if so, is he still alive?"

If Steyn and Minnie are to be believed, Magnus Malan was prepared to murder to conceal his crimes. That made the boys targets. Why didn't Minnie attempt to protect his witnesses?

Not long after speaking to the boys, Minnie and a colleague raided Dave Allen's house where they discovered pornography, which was then illegal to possess. Minnie arrested Allen on two charges: the first for the illegal possession of pornography, and the second for committing sexual acts with minors, also known as statutory rape.

On their way to the police station, Allen allegedly sang like a canary and named Malan, Wiley and Du Plessis as members of his ring. He also tried to bribe Minnie with R100 000, which constituted another criminal offence: the attempted bribery of a police officer.

At the police station Minnie did the paperwork and took Allen's fingerprints. He never explained why he didn't add the third charge. The policeman then inexplicably issued Allen with a J-127 and set him free. A J-127 is a written warning to appear in court the next day.

I have spoken to very senior policemen and they agree that it was illegal of Minnie to have released Allen on such a serious charge. Minnie should have detained Allen for the night and took him to court the next morning to apply for bail.

But Minnie's blunders didn't stop there. With Allen gone, Minnie bought a bottle of whisky and went drinking. Later that night, he received a call from a constable who said he had Allen with him at a police station.

The accused had intimidated the mother of the Bird Island boys to have the charges withdrawn. She called the police and when they arrived, they took Allen to the station. Minnie spoke to Allen on the phone and told him to leave it and go home.

Minnie was obligated to instruct the policemen at the station to charge Allen with obstruction of justice by interfering with a state witness. He should have been locked up. Why did Minnie once again let the accused free?

The next morning, Allen was found dead with a gun in his hand. It looked like suicide.

If Minnie had done his job, Allen might have been alive. Although some detainees commit suicide in detention, police would have removed his shoe laces, belt and anything he could have injured himself with. Allen would have appeared in court that morning, might have been detained while awaiting trial and would have spilt the beans on the involvement of the cabinet ministers in his paedophile ring.

Allen didn't want to go down alone. He was prepared to mention names.

With Allen dead, Minnie continued his investigation but said he got a call from a senior state prosecutor that demanded to see his docket. He said the prosecutor wrote in red in the docket that the investigation must stop immediately. The prosecutor signed his note and Minnie said from then on, he had to conduct his investigation surreptitiously.

The instruction of the prosecutor was rubbish and illegal. A prosecutor has never had the authority to stop a police investigation that was in progress. A prosecutor can refuse to prosecute once the investigation has been completed and he had received the docket, but he cannot close a "living" docket.

Didn't Minnie know this? Or is he lying?

Minnie says when he walked into his office one morning the Bird Island docket was gone. Security Branch policemen had removed it. All his evidence was in the docket.

Why had Minnie not "protected" his docket? Policemen were supposed to make copies of sensitive dockets. The original docket should have been locked in a safe with him working from the copy. Why didn't he do it?

At the time, policemen carried pocket notebooks (it was green and was standard issue) in which they had to detail their movements and scribbled down the progress of their investigations. The book had to contain dates when he saw witness, their names and their contact details. He would for example have made notes of his interviews with the boys.

Where is Minnie's notebook of his Bird Island investigation? It would not have been in the docket as he had to carry the notebook with him.

He would have had to enter the existence of the tape recordings of his interviews with the boys into a SAP13 exhibit register. The transcripts of the recordings would have been in the docket, but because of the sensitivity of the investigation, the tapes had to be locked in a safe.

What happened to the tapes?

Minnie said a year or two later he became an undercover police informant. He attempted to reconstitute the Bird Island docket by writing down the names and addresses of all the witnesses and the most important information.

He even found out where one of the lost boys was – in prison for having stabbed another juvenile.

Minnie planned to visit the boy until his girlfriend – a barmaid at his favourite watering hole – reminded him that he wasn't a real cop any longer and that he couldn't arrest Malan or even question the boy.

Infuriated, Minnie said he hit a hole in the television cabinet and realised he was done as a policeman. He went to see for the last time former Eastern Cape divisional commissioner Brigadier Ernie Schnetler and handed him the docket.

There it is, he told his superior officer, I give you Magnus Malan on a plate. He left – without having made a copy of the second docket either.

A journalist friend that worked in PE in the '90s told me that around 1997 Minnie offered to sell the "Bird Island docket" to him for around R20 000. He said he is prepared to make an affidavit in this regard.

Why did Minnie wait 30 years before publishing his allegations? As a result, there will be no justice for the boys because the alleged paedophiles – with exception of the elderly Barend du Plessis – are dead.

The boys have disappeared while other important witnesses, like Ernie Schnetler, are also dead.

It's easy to defame the dead – they can't sue for defamation. This is despite Steyn that said in the book that she applied the same standard to the dead as the living.

Chris Steyn depicts herself as a fearless investigative journalist and fierce opponent of the apartheid regime.

She went into exile in the '80s after refusing to testify against her sources. Back in South Africa, she was arrested for protesting a proclamation that would have curbed press freedom.

If you believe Minnie and Steyn, Magnus Malan ordered the murders of both Dave Allen and John Wiley, who had committed suicide shortly after his diver friend.

Steyn concluded that Malan ordered the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) to kill them. Steyn rightly paints the CCB as Malan's pet assassination squad; a murderous squad of army assassins that were involved in murder and mayhem inside and outside South Africa.

I have two problems with her assumptions. I have worked on the CCB for many years and their assassins were based in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

It gave them no more than six or seven hours to concoct the plot, get the killers to PE and shoot Allen. There was probably not enough time.

I then find it inexplicable that Steyn didn't declare in the book that upon leaving journalism in the late '80s/early '90s, she married a former CCB commander.

Chris Steyn and Lieutenant Colonel Eeben Barlow were together and married for many years and she became known as Steyn-Barlow.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard evidence that Barlow was in the latter half of the '80s the commander of the Western European region of the CCB.

In an interview with Soldier of Fortune in June this year, Barlow admitted his involvement with the CCB and said the unit's mission was to "identify, locate and neutralise (soldier lingo for kill) enemies of the (apartheid) state".

The TRC fingered the CCB for a host of murders and atrocities, among them the assassination of ANC office bearers and activists in Europe. Among them were the ANC's head in France, Dulcie September.

Barlow later found a mercenary outfit called Executive Outcomes that was embroiled in civil conflicts in among others Angola, Sierra Leone and Indonesia.

Condemned by the United Nations and held as unlawful combatants under international law, Barlow's dogs of war were available for hire to companies and governments around the globe.

Why did Steyn hide her relationship with Barlow when the existence and modus operandi of the CCB play such an important role in her analysis of the alleged hits on Wiley and Allen?

I do not know Steyn's work as a journalist, but she was by many accounts a fine and enterprising investigative reporter in the '80s. I have no reason to doubt that.

Steyn claims that she traced the surgeon that treated the wounded child that Minnie claimed he saw in hospital. He is according to her retired and is a wine farmer in the Western Cape. She said she contacted him, but he said he couldn't talk about the incident because of doctor-patient confidentiality.

Why is she protecting his identity when he almost certainly made himself guilty of at least professional misconduct by failing to report serious sexual assault of a child to the authorities? He should be named and shamed.

It is ultimately a tragedy that Minnie botched the Bird Island investigation. The lost boys deserved better but as a result, there are virtually no detail of the events that took place.

What gave me hope that at least some of the allegations in The Lost Boys of Bird Island might be true is the involvement of seasoned journalist Marianne Thamm in the publishing of the book.

She is a journalist of high integrity for whom I have enormous respect. She wrote the preface to the book and has since then staunchly defended its content.

The Foundation for Human Rights is also investigating the allegations in the book and one can only hope that they come up with something more substantial than what Steyn and Minnie dished us.


This brilliant review of the book by Jacques Pauw was written after its release but BEFORE the results of the investigation by Wouter de Swardt and information were leaked to the media and made public. Pauw follow it up with another brilliant article for news24 on 5 April 2019. It has since been proved that there were no Lost Boys of Bird Island and that Marianne Thamm was duped by Chris Steyn into writing the preface of the book.