Nokuthula Simelane’s sister joins case in bid to get wheels of justice turning

Statement from the Foundation for Human Rights 

On Tuesday, in an extraordinary step to get the wheels of justice turning in respect of the enforced disappearance of her sister Nokuthula Simelane nearly 35 years ago, the Executive Mayor of Polokwane Ms Thembisile Nkadimeng joins Nokuthula’s alleged killers in seeking to compel the police to pay the costs of defending its former members against murder charges.

An application to review and set aside of the decision of the police not to fund the legal defence of three of its four former members will be heard in the High Court, Pretoria, at 10am on 15 May 2018.

In February 2016, following sustained pressure from Nkadimeng on the National Prosecutions Authority – including the gathering and presentation of new evidence by an investigator appointed by the family – four apartheid security policemen, Tim Radebe, Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederick Mong were charged with Nokuthula’s murder. But the police refused to pay the costs of their defence, arguing that the accused had not acted in their official capacities in committing crimes against Nokuthula, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In March 2017, Nkadimeng was granted permission by the High Court to join the alleged murderers’ application to force the State to pay for their defence.

Nokuthula Simelane was an underground operative of the African National Congress when she was abducted by members of the security police in September 1983 and brutally tortured. She was never seen again. She was just 23-years-old.

Certain former security policemen applied to the TRC for amnesty for kidnapping and assaulting Nokuthula, but not for murdering her. They told the commission that after persuading her to work for them, they released her on the Swaziland border. But the TRC received contradictory evidence from other former security policemen to the effect that Nokuthula had been beaten and tortured to the point of being unrecognisable, and was barely able to walk.

The commission granted the policemen amnesty for kidnapping Nokuthula, and referred the matter to the National Prosecutions Authority for further investigation with a view to prosecution.

“My family and I have been searching for answers for more than 30 years. We have pleaded with authorities to take the necessary action to bring closure to this case. These pleas fell on deaf ears,” Nkadimeng stated in her submission to join the former security policemen’s application.

In court papers, Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, former head of the TRC’s investigative unit and a board member of the Foundation for Human Rights said the police suggestion that the former security policemen, “were engaged in a private frolic of their own is not only an absurd proposition, it is an expedient and wholly false claim. They were mere junior officers acting at the behest of a powerful and brutal organisation which specifically authorised and condoned their actions”.

In its final report, the TRC made particular reference to abductions, interrogations and killings perpetrated by apartheid police, where “the primary purpose was to obtain information, and death followed, apparently in order to protect the information received”.

The TRC found: “Amnesty applicants suggested that such intelligence had value only for as long as the ‘enemy’ was not aware that the information had been uncovered. Detainees – even those kept in solitary confinement – sometimes managed to smuggle out information about their detention and interrogation. Moreover, in the nature of clandestine work, once a detention was known about, old routines, codes and meeting places would be regarded as compromised and therefore changed.

“It was for this reason, the Security Branch argued, that it was preferable to abduct rather than officially detain, and to kill the abductee once information had been extracted. In some instances, the Security Branch attempted to ‘turn’ (recruit) the individual; where this proved unsuccessful, killing was regarded as necessary.

“This modus operandi allowed for greater freedom to torture without fear of consequences…”

*  Last week, the team that supported the Timol family to convince the State to re-open the Ahmed Timol inquest last year – including representatives of the Foundation for Human Rights, Legal Resources Centre, Khulumani Support Group and law-firm Webber Wentzel, internationally renown detective Frank Dutton, Advocate Howard Varney, and the nephew of the late Ahmed Timol, Imtiaz Cajee – called on the public for information about eight further apartheid era crimes, including Simelane’s disappearance.

The pursuit of justice in these cases has the blessing of the former chairperson of the TRC, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who views the initiative as part of the TRC’s “unfinished business”. 

South Africans with information on the Simelane and Neil Aggett cases are asked to contact Mr Moray Hathorn ( / 011 530 5000), while information on the Matthews Mabelane, Suliman Saloojee, Hoosen Haffejee, Nicodemus Kgoathe, Solomon Modipane and Jacob Monnakgotla matters may contact Ms Naseema Fakir ( / 011 836 9831).

These cases are among more than 300 recommended by the TRC for further investigation.


Distributed by Oryx Media (Benny Gool 082 5566 556 or Roger Friedman 079 8966 899) for the Foundation for Human Rights.