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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South Africa: Trial Tackles Racial Divide

JOHANNESBURG -- When street clashes, drive-by shootings and assassinations killed thousands of rival blacks in years past, the African National Congress accused the former apartheid government of helping foment the violence, a charge the authorities denied.

On Monday, a white police commander stood trial in Pretoria on more than 100 charges ranging from murder to theft and fraud in a case that could verify the longstanding accusations. Eugene de Kock pleaded not guilty to all the charges Monday in a trial that touches on all the complex issues facing a racially divided nation trying to come to grips with its past.

De Kock is accused of heading a special police unit -- named for the Vlakplaas farm where it was based -- that allegedly specialized in horrific murders of anti-government activists and collaborating with opponents of the ANC to instigate political violence.

Former members of the unit began disclosing details of its actions as far back as six years ago, and an independent judicial commission led by Justice Richard Goldstone -- now the war crimes prosecutor in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda -- last year uncovered evidence of Vlakplaas police crimes.

Significant progress toward bringing de Kock to trial, however, came only after the nation's first all-race election last April ended apartheid and brought the ANC to power.

If it proceeds, the trial could uncover links between the Vlakplaas unit and top officials of the previous government led by de F.W. de Klerk, now a deputy president in the ANC-led government.