“The Suffering of the “Third Minister”

(An Article by Barend du Plessis published in Rapport of 5 April 2020)

“Herman Lategan deserves honour for his courage to speak out after so many years about the horrifying experiences he had suffered as a child’, writes Barend du Plessis, a former South African minister of Finance.

I write in response to the admirable and brave step that Herman Lategan took last week on these pages by coming forward about the flagrant injustice that was committed against him during his childhood. His courage should be commended.

The openhearted way in which he wrote about his pain and suffering made me realise that there are important points of tangency between his article and my own experience of the previous 19 months.

The image of the despicable molester that undoubtedly comes to mind when people read Herman’s outpouring, is the exact image that was created of me in the book The Lost Boys of Bird Island.

Herman rightly asks what makes the person tick who had abused him. I ask the same question about everyone involved in that book of lies.

Herman tells about how the snake prepares you and eventually sails into your bed. I was also bitten by a snake – one that fell on me totally unexpectedly out of the blue.

My legal folk and I have meanwhile unravelled its winding path to me.

My humanness and dignity have now been damaged ongoing for 600 days.

Rapport displayed courage and integrity by acknowledging that the newspaper had made a mistake by reporting on the allegations made in the book, and apologized. I respect the editor for that.

Much later – in fact only recently – did NB Publishers, who published the book, offer a so-called apology. Unlike that of Rapport, the apology was ambiguous and I am still subtly implicated as being guilty. I therefore rejected the apology.

Deeds leave scars. Physically and mentally.

My image has been ruthlessly damaged for 600 days. The publishers and surviving author refuse point-blank to acknowledge their mistake and to publish an honest apology to me, as a forerunner to a comprehensive settlement.

My time and health are running out and as a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather I am missing out on some of the joy of life I should be sharing with my loved ones during this life season. However, I must pursue the goal I have set myself, to remove the stigma that NB Publishers forced on me and that will forever rest on my descendants via electronic data, social media and libraries.

I feel tainted, just like numerous victims of this form of abuse.

It is aggravated by the fact that people are reluctant to believe you, just as they are reluctant to believe the victims of sexual abuse.

Even sworn statements by persons of incorruptible integrity, like a retired senior state prosecutor, a doctor, a leading businessman and a former marine biologist, are ignored.

The world renowned independent forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow for years made use of the services of Wouter de Swardt, a highly skilled independent forensic investigator, as a collaborator. Following instructions from the Human Rights Foundation (FHR), they investigated the death of Mark Minnie, one of the authors. De Swardt was also instructed to investigate the allegations of paedophilia against myself and two other former ministers, as claimed in the book.

The finding was that Minnie had taken his own life. De Swardt subsequently submitted a report that no evidence existed for the allegations levelled against the three former cabinet ministers. Six legal advisors of the Human Rights Foundation cross-examined him on the finding, but his report remains undisputed. Nonetheless, the publishers reject it.

Due to the publishers’ ambiguous apology, I am continuously haunted by the mantra “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.

My name only started coming up after those of my two deceased colleagues in the consecutive versions of the manuscript, because I was meant to serve as live bait for the future marketing of the book.

For the same purpose several fictitious “incidents” involving the three of us, had to be fabricated. Legal advice had apparently been received that deceased persons cannot be slandered, therefore the authors and the publisher especially had a free hand with Magnus Malan.

Up to the penultimate manuscript the text contained all three names, apparently on insistence of Minnie’s co-author, Chris Steyn.

Legal advice however also cautioned them that if my name were left in the book and I would take legal steps, the risk would be great that the publishers would not be able to present sufficient proof to justify the publication of accusations against me.

Consequently, my name was replaced with the “safe” hidden name of “the third minister”.

The legal advisor was nevertheless satisfied that the book could unmistakably describe me as the third minister, because after publication, outsiders would soon enough identify me by name.

He was right. I was immediately recognisable. Hundreds of calls and messages confirmed this.

Wednesday 1 August 2018, which was a few days before publication, unexpectedly became a red-letter day for the book. E-mails flew to and fro.

At 11:33 the publisher sent five possibly “tricky” media questions to the co-authors, together with recommended answers. Significantly, the first four revolved around the “third minister”.

Question 3: “Why, then, do you not let him take you to court so that you can prove what he did?” To which the publisher most meaningfully replied: “It will be difficult to provide physical proof in a court of law. It will be the word of the authors (and their dozens of sources) against the word of the Third Minister.”

What has become of the “evidence” and statements of these alleged “dozens” of sources? Absolutely nothing!

When Herman and two others came forward, the media did not hesitate to report on it, because as NB’s lawyer, Willem de Klerk, recently said in an unrelated podcast in Cape Town: The media can only respond to alleged paedophilia once there are sworn statements.

In the Bird Island saga, however, exactly the opposite happened on authority of the same legal advisor.

At 13:50 on 1 August 2018, Minnie wrote an e-mail to his publisher, saying that he was concerned over possible queries about evidence in court. Then followed his condemning confession: There is no concrete evidence to prove that any of the three former ministers had sexually molested a victim. They would have to trace a victim to lay a charge.

How did the publisher and Steyn deal with the enormous implications of Minnie’s confession? Decisive action was urgently needed.

Through Herman’s article I learned of two concepts that I never before had encountered. I had to research both “omertà” and “gaslighting”. Both came into action in the conduct of Steyn and the publisher after Minnie’s confession.

Omertà: Make sure that none of Minnie’s confession is made public, so silence him immediately with a strict instruction that no information is to be provided to the media prior to them (Steyn and the publisher) having had insight into it.

Gaslighting: Make someone doubt their own mental health by spreading a lie about them. You know what they are saying is rubbish, but they still lie to your face.

They therefore recklessly continued defending and publishing the book, notwithstanding the fact that Minnie’s confession had whipped out the backbone and had instantaneously cancelled the publisher’s advertised classification of the book as “nonfiction”.

The statements by Herman and other victims will also be dismissed as “mere allegations”. He and his three fellow victims should however find reassurance in the fact that they had at least found the courage to come forward and make those statements.

In decades not a single victim has yet come forward about the malicious allegations made against me and my colleagues.

Res ipsa loquitur. “The facts speak for themselves.”

(Klik hier vir oorspronklike brief in Afrikaans)