Mark Minnie always knew he could be killed for writing about the pedophile ring that he said he and journalist Chris Steyn discovered when he was a policeman and she a reporter under the apartheid regime. And if it happened, he expected, it would look like he took his own life.
His body was found two weeks ago, on August 13, on a small farm in Port Elizabeth, a city in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region. And his death did look like a suicide. There was even a note. But people who knew him don’t believe for a moment that he shot himself.
Rocco Rodriquez, who met Minnie in 2012 and worked with him across China auditing English language tests, remembers Minnie saying explicitly on more than one occasion, “They will kill me and make it look like a suicide.”
Over the years, Minnie sent drafts of the manuscript he was working on to Rodriquez to read as a friend. The material was sensational and deeply disturbing, implicating some very powerful South Africans in some very ugly crimes. “You can see why I can't believe this nonsense that he shot himself,” Rodriguez told the Daily Beast.
The book Minnie was working on all those years, The Lost Boys of Bird Island, co-authored with Steyn, had been published 10 days earlier. It broke a previously untold story alleging there was a massive pedophile network under South Africa’s apartheid government.
In the mid-1980’s, the book alleges, at least three politicians, including the then minister of defense, and one well-connected businessman were flying and boating young black boys to Bird Island off the coast of the Eastern Cape and raping them violently. Among the hideous events recounted in the book: "One child was maimed when a gun was thrust up his anus and the trigger pulled."
Because it appeared that two of the other perpetrators Minnie names in The Lost Boys also died by their own hand, Minnie's death has reignited conversations about the lingering presence of a "suicide ring" within the South African police force under apartheid that was deployed to murder people and make it look like they killed themselves. His death has prompted a lot of discussion about violence and homophobia in the country.
Minnie writes that he uncovered the pedophile network when he was a policeman on the narcotics beat in the Eastern Cape in the 1980's, and he felt he had to follow up—despite immense pressure to stop—because he himself had been raped as a young boy.
“This book isn’t simply a cop and a journalist’s exposé of a pedophile ring,” wrote Eusebius McKaiser, in an op-ed in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. “That would be too understated and might lead to it being read too quickly. It is best understood as a text that documents an orgy of everyday violence in our society, violence that was embedded in the very social and political structures of the colonial and apartheid states.”
One of the politicians named in The Lost Boys is the late Magnus Malan, who at the time was the minister of defense. Malan was considered one of former President P.W. Botha’s most influential advisors and is known for his expansion and concentration of the security and intelligence sectors, the impacts of which are still felt in South Africa’s highly militarized police.
Thirty years after the events in question, Minnie took an unpaid leave of absence from his job in China and connected with Steyn to write The Lost Boys. Steyn had also been trying to cover the case decades ago, but was similarly silenced. Their editor, Marianne Thamm, has been outspoken in the press and on social media, tweeting “something is amiss,” when she posted the news about Minnie’s death, and joining calls for a private forensic team to investigate.
Although the book would detail shocking revelations from the apartheid regime, there is a lot of missing information: the number of young men abused, exactly what happened on the island and how the network operated. The Lost Boys is more about Minnie and Steyn’s personal missions than the explicit crimes themselves, largely because few have talked, fearing retribution.
At the end of the book, the co-authors make a plea for survivors to come forward, and the publisher has promised that more information is coming.
“We are still working on new leads,” Steyn wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “And I am still doing so. In his last letter Mark urged me not to give up. And I won’t.”
Though three of the alleged perpetrators in the book are dead (two by suicide, one naturally), one is still alive, but goes unnamed in the story. The person widely suspected and in some cases named in the local press has denied the allegations and threatened to sue anyone who attaches his name to them.
Some black South Africans have expressed frustration that this man goes unnamed in the book, and that there’s no talk of investigation into his past. As one tweeted, “Why is the surviving apartheid minister implicated in the Island Boys case not exposed?… Black politicians get exposed on mere suspicions/allegations all the time by the media… Why not with this one?”
A few days after the book came out, Minnie was reported dead by suicide, a gunshot wound to the head near a friend's house in the eastern Cape. Minnie left a note, but the gun belonged to his friend. Minnie's family, colleagues and friends are adamant that he did not kill himself, and they've said as much to the press. They think Minnie was forced to write the note. Steyn posits a related theory, “I would be prepared to accept an official finding of suicide. However I do believe he was coerced into killing himself.” Eerily, even before he died, Minnie's son posted on Facebook that he thought his father might die for his work.
Rodriquez, his colleague conducting English language exams, knew Minnie because the two “spent a lot of time stuck in airports flying around China.” Of Minnie, his friend said, “I've known a lot of combat veterans (Mark fought in The Bush Wars) ex-cops, bikers, and other assorted tough guys and he wasn't the type to go out like this. He suffered from PTSD and like many used alcohol to cope. He had his demons, but suicidal depression was not one of them."
Steyn echoed Rodriguez, “He was worried about people looking for him, but that alone would not have made him end his life, because he was not a coward.”
“Many people will say he was paranoid,” commented Rodriquez. “I say he should have been. The years of violence in that country would change anyone. And here is a person who was at the epicenter of it.”
Col. Priscilla Naidu, the spokesperson for the South African Police Service in Eastern Cape, said in a statement that "at this stage, no foul play is suspected.” The autopsy report is not yet ready and Naidu said an inquest is continuing.
Minnie’s funeral was on Friday. Steyn described it as “traumatic” but she said, “His family mourned him with pride. He died a legend.”
Steyn is now more motivated than ever to forge ahead. “I am feeling determined to keep going. Mark died haunted by the pitiful cries of the lost boys. They still need justice.”