Magnus Malan. Picture: AFP
Magnus Malan. Picture: AFP

General Magnus Malan was a trusted ally of PW Botha — apartheid’s "Groot Krokodil".

As defence minister in the 1980s he was overlord of a huge war machine that invaded neighbouring states and patrolled the townships in a bid to keep the teetering system of racial discrimination alive.

It was a corrupt empire of dodgy front companies, cross-border hits on houses suspected of being ANC accommodation, hit squads and men in white coats developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

At one point the drug Mandrax was manufactured and distributed so Malan’s agents could infiltrate the underworld. The line between legality and illegality was blurred, to put it mildly.

Malan was a staunch opponent of change — a verkrampte, to use the language of the time — and, legend has it, confronted FW de Klerk with "What the fuck do you think you’re doing?" when De Klerk told members of his cabinet that he was about to unban the ANC and release Nelson Mandela from prison.

Malan died in 2007 and was the subject of one of the most scathing obituaries ever published. The Sunday Times summed up his legacy with the headline: "Magnus Malan: Vile, venal enemy of the people".

This week Malan was back from the dead — and viler than ever.

A new book by former policeman Mark Minnie and journalist Chris Steyn called The Lost Boys of Bird Island fits more pieces of the Malan jigsaw puzzle into place.

The book explores in detail how Malan was involved with Dave Allen and apartheid cabinet minister John Wiley, who were linked to a paedophile ring that abused coloured boys.

Malan always denied the allegations, but confirmed that he had travelled to Bird Island with Allen and Wiley on "official [SA Defence Force] business" for a day or two. He had taken his fishing rod along.

Minnie, who investigated the paedophile ring before finding himself isolated within the police, brings new evidence to light about Malan’s involvement.

He writes at the end of the book: "To the Lost Boys, I am sorry. I am sorry that you were failed by society and the system. We can never be forgiven. Nor can we allow these adults, these men who abuse children, to carry on living without fear of being found out, caught and convicted."