What is the difference between reading about an assassination of a prominent person, and seeing a video of their dying moments? There is something invariably powerful, and devastating, no matter the dying person’s litany of mistakes or crimes.
PLEASE BEWARE: The videos embedded or linked on this post are disturbing.
6. The attempted assassination of Henrik Vorwoed, PM of South Africa
Dr. Hendrik F. Vorwoed was the man who conceived and implemented the notorious apartheid system. Born in Amsterdam, Vorwoed grew up in Rhodesia and South Africa. He quit his job as an editor to represent Dr. D.F. Malan’s National Party in the Senate. In 1950, Malan made him the Minister of Native Affairs where he rolled out segregation programs intended at hiving off Black reservations as autonomous states. In 1958, the man who once said that Africans were meant to be ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ became the Prime Minister of South Africa.
In this video hosted by British Pathe, Dr. Vorwoed is delivering his opening address at a ceremony to mark the Jubilee of the Union of South Africa at Milner Park, Johannesburg when shots ring in the air. The assassin, who shoots Vorwoed twice at point blank range, is a rich English businessman called David Pratt. One bullet hit the PM on his right cheek and the other his right ear. The President of the Witswatersrand Agricultural society knocked the gun off Pratt’s hand before he could shoot again. Security men then overpowered and arrested him. Pratt, a mentally disturbed man who had tried to commit suicide thrice, claimed Vorwoed was the ‘epitome of apartheid.’ The troubled assasin committed suicide while being held at a mental hospital in 1961.
Vorwoed survived the attack but would not be so lucky the next time someone tried to kill him. In 1966, he was killed in the South African parliament by Dimitri Tsafendas, a uniformed parliamentary messenger. Tsafendas stabbed him in the chest and neck four times, fatally wounding him.
5. The attempted assassination of Gamal Abdel Nasser
On October 26, 1954, the man who would become Egypt’s most famous leader survived an assassination attempt. Then the Prime Minister of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser was addressing a crowd at the Midan el Tahrir (Place of Liberation, popularly known as the Tahrir Square). Sometime during the speech, a thirty-two-year-old workman called Mahmoud Abdul Latif aimed a revolver at Nasser and squeezed the trigger eight times. Nasser was unharmed as all the bullets missed him. If you listen to the audio above, you can hear the first shot at 0:23 and the last one at 0:29.
The plot was later traced to the President at the time, Naguib, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Naguib was stripped of his office and placed under house arrest. Nasser banned the Brotherhood and executed the plotters. There is something suspicious about the event though. The assassin was a terrible shot even from just 7.6 meters away. It is also rather weird that Nasser barely flinched while the shots rang the air, whizzing past his ears to hit the electric light above. He remained cool during the whole attempt, a little too cool.
The shots only made him interrupt his speech and scream ‘Let them kill Nasser. What is Nasser but one among many? My fellow countrymen, stay where you are. I am not dead, I am alive, and even if I die all of you is Gamal Abd al-Nasser!” It gave him a reason to remove Naguib from power and deal with the thorny Muslim Brotherhood.
4. The Public Torture of Muammar Gadaffi, Libyan Leader
Until the Arab Spring wave hit the country he had led for four decades, Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi was an eccentric dictator known for his theatrics and manic dreams. The rebellion surprised him, and he reacted by bringing out the big guns. France, backed by NATO, joined the fight, setting the scenario for an all-out war.
When he finally realized he was losing, Gadaffi attempted to flee to Niger. He would have made it had it not been for a satellite call he made, presumably thinking it couldn’t be tracked. The deposed leader’s convoy was bombed by NATO jets, forcing him and his men to flee on foot. Wounded, Gadaffi sought shelter in a culvert where the rebels soon found and dragged him out. Many videos of the gruesome events that followed are available online, with most showing his torture and torment at the hands of his captors.
In one Gaddafi is stabbed repeatedly in the ass with a bayonet. In another, he is draped onto the hood of a car by rebels shouting ‘God is Great’ in Arabic. He asks his captors ‘Do you know right from wrong.’ Later, he is seen being stripped to the waist…and then lying in a pool of blood. Another video show his captors toying with his lifeless body, pulling his head up and down. There is no known video of the actual moment of his death and the circumstances of his murder have been the subject of speculation and controversy.
Omran Shaban, the man who discovered Gadaffi in the culvert and posed with his golden gun, was later shot by pro-Gadaffi fighters in Bani Walid. He was tortured and paralysed. Shaban died while undergoing treatment in France.
3. Torture of Samuel Doe, Liberia’s first native President
Samuel Doe and his awesome afro reigned supreme over Liberia from 1980 to 1990. Before 1980, he was a lowly soldier with no dreams of ever being a president. His journey to the presidency started as a joke with his fellow soldiers. Before long, the joke became a plan, and then became a coup. Doe made many enemies, one of them being the dashing fellow psychopath Charles Taylor. Taylor launched a large scale guerrilla war against Doe such that by 1990, most of Liberia was under rebel hands. In Taylor’s camp, a group calling itself the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia broke away. The ragtag militia was led by an eccentric psychopath called Prince Johnson.
In 1990, while Doe was visiting the ECOMOG peacekeeping headquarters in Monrovia, the INPFL attacked the camp. They outmanouvered Doe’s security and the peacekeepers, and captured the President. The rebels brought Doe before Johnson. They stripped him naked except for his underpants. In the video, Doe is sitting on the floor and one of his tormentors holds a microphone to his face. He is begging Johnson for his life: “Yomi, two people fight, one win. Spare me, please.” Johnson sternly tells Doe “Don’t fuck with me!”
Johnson lords over the gruesome scene of a room filled with rebels. He is calmly sitting on a swivel chair underneath a picture of Jesus. In one hand, he holds a walkie talkie and the other, a Budweiser. The room is overly hot, and for most of the video, one of the few female rebels fans him with a piece of cloth. She also gets him another beer, and then water. He is the picture of the ultimate maniac.
On the other side, Doe sits on the floor begging for his life. The camera oscillates between the two scenes. At some point, the rebels hold him back as one of them cuts off his ears. He does it almost casually, and when Doe is allowed to sit up again, he is earless and bleeding onto his naked body. They also cut off his fingers and toes.There is a second video of him being interviewed while seated outside, naked. Doe’s actual death was not captured on camera, but he died later that day in unclear circumstances. Johnson accepted responsibility, saying “He was in our custody, it was my responsibility.” It is said that Doe’s body was later cooked and eaten by the rebels.
2. Murder of Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s 3rd President
As Egypt’s President, Mohammed Anwar el Sadat was the most protected man in the country. He was covered by at least four layers of security at any function, including a unit tasked with seizing ammunition from the military during parade. But an unlucky string of events led to his vulnerability and assassination on 6th October 1981. Three years before, Sadat had signed the Camp David Accords that brought an end to his country’s war with Israel. In doing so, he had enraged his neighbours, who promptly threw Egypt out of the Arab League. He also made many domestic enemies, and his crackdowns on Islamist groups did not make matters any better.
In February of 1981, the Egyptian government learnt of a Fatwa that had been issued by a cleric. The fatwa authorised the Islamic Jihad to assassinate Sadat. His death would be followed by a government coup. In the months between February and September, the government cracked down on the jihad. The crackdown got all the main players except a small jihad cell that was right under its nose, in its military. On 6th October 1981, Sadat attended the eighth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. It was a show of might for the Egyptian military and they brought their best toys for the country to see. As military planes flew overhead, the army trucks passed in front of the presidential bias. The noise from the jets distracted most people from the fleet of trucks.
At one point, one of the trucks stopped and an officer jumped out. The officer, Lieutenat Khalid Islambouli, ran towards the dias, followed by his accomplices. As bad luck would have it, the officers who should have ensured the soldiers had no live bullets were on pilgrimage in Mecca.
Sadat, mistakenly thinking it was part of the show, stood up to receive what he thought was a salute. By doing so, he exposed himself even further. Islambouli threw three hand grenades at Sadat and started shooting as he shouted ‘Death to Pharaoh!’ The other assasins provided cover fire for Islambouli, whose work was to kill Sadat.
By the time they ran out of ammunition one minute later, they had fatally wounded Sadat and 11 other people, including the then Cuban ambassador to Egypt. Attempts to shield Sadat by throwing chairs on him had been a second too late. In the gunfight, one assassin had been shot dead and the others were injured. They had had no escape plan as the assassination was meant to be an act of jihad. One of the top Egyptian politicians who were wounded that day was Vice President Hosni Mubarak, who became president shortly after. Another, then Foreign Minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali, later became the Secretary General of the United Nations.
1. The Execution of the Tolbert Cabinet
10 years before Doe (#3 above) met his fate, he had presided over the public execution of members of the Cabinet he had overthrown. He overthrew William Tolbert to become Liberia’s first native president. Tolbert himself was shot while he slept either in bed or in his office. Most members of his cabinet were arrested and tried for different crimes. There are videos of the trial. At one point, the judge tells the defendants to ‘Keep it short.’ He then found them guilty and recommended their execution. The gruesome execution was televised.
The ministers were marched through the streets as citizens lined up to jeer them. They were then taken to the public beach where they were ordered to stand next to the installed posts and remove their shirts. The men are tied upright to the posts. Soldiers then line up to form a firing squad. After the first barrage of gunfire, only one man, Cecil Dennis, still stands. The others are dead, with their bodies slumping on the posts. Two soldiers shoot Dennis with an Uzi and a pistol. The firing squad continues firing, shooting the ministers at least 60 more times.
Strangely, Doe called for Cecil Dennis to be brought to the Executive Mansion a few days after he had had him killed. It is possible that Doe had never bothered to look at the list or the recommendation. One anecdote has it that the court recommended the execution of 3 men but Doe, either distracted or otherwise, ordered that they all be killed. In fact, the execution was delayed because there were not enough poles installed on the beach that day. Four men sat in the bus while the first nine were being killed.
One of the people who survived the purge was none other but Ellen Sirleaf, the current President of Liberia. She was Tolbert’s Minister of Finance; she believes she survived because her mother had once given Doe and his men water to drink.
One story is good
till Another is told.