Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Book exposes murder trail of S African security guard

OLD WOUNDS In perhaps a telltale sign of how far the nation has yet to go with race relations, van Schoor says 90 percent of the people who recognize him react positively

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

South Africa's most prolific mass murderer takes another sip of coffee, eases back in his chair and pauses when asked if it is true he shot more than 100 black people.

"I can't argue with that," Louis van Schoor says. "I never kept count."

Seated at a restaurant terrace in East London, a seaside town in the Eastern Cape, the former security guard is a picture of relaxed confidence, soaking up sunshine while reminiscing about his days as an apartheid folk hero.

Hired to protect white-owned businesses in the 1980s, he is thought to have shot 101 people, killing 39, in a three-year spree.

Some were burglars; others were passers-by dragged in from the street. All of them were black or colored, the term for those of mixed race.

Convicted of murder but released from jail after 12 years, Van Schoor is unrepentant.

"I was doing my job -- I was paid to protect property. I never apologized for what I did," he says.

He is not the only one. The whites in East London who turned a blind eye to his killing spree have not apologized and whites in general, according to black clerics and politicians, have not owned up to apartheid-era atrocities.

That reluctance to atone has been laid bare in a book published last week, The Colour of Murder, by Heidi Holland, which investigates the bloodsoaked trail not only of Van Schoor but also his daughter, Sabrina, who hired a hitman to murder her mother.

The macabre tale is likely to reignite debate about those whites who shun the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and mock rainbow nation rhetoric.

"The story is of a family but it is also the story of a divided country and of the people of that country trying to find new ways to live with each other," says Holland.

Since his release two years ago, after benefiting from a sentence reduction for all convicts issued by Nelson Mandela when he was president, Van Schoor, 55, has slimmed down, shaved off his beard and kept a low profile, working as a cattle farm foreman outside East London. During his 1992 trial white residents displayed "I Love Louis" stickers decorated with three bullet holes through a bleeding heart. Sympathy endures, says Van Schoor.

"The reaction is 90 percent positive. Strangers say, `Hey, it's good to see you,'" he says.

Magistrates and the police, grateful for the terror instilled in black people, covered his tracks until local journalists and human rights campaigners exposed the carnage as apartheid crumbled. Van Schoor was convicted of seven murders and two attempted murders.

Upon his release in 2004, Van Schoor said he had found God and, when prompted, expressed sorrow to his victims' relatives.

"I apologize if any of my actions caused them hurt," he says.

In an interview this week, he tried to clarify his position.

"I never apologized for what I did. I apologized for any hurt or pain that I caused through my actions during the course of my work," he explains.

Thanks to his changed appearance and low profile he has faced no backlash. Few black people recognize him, including the bookseller who took his order for The Colour of Murder. When Van Schoor gave his name, the penny dropped.

"She nearly fell off her chair," he says, smiling.

Married four times and now engaged to a local woman, Van Schoor, speaking softly and warily, says he is "happy and content". But he does not seem to approve of the new South Africa.

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