When Thembi Nkadimeng informs her 80-year-old mother that the case against the former security branch policemen accused of torturing and killing her daughter was set for October this year –she wasn’t impressed.
“Ba linde ngife [are they waiting for me to die]?” Ernestine Simelane responds dismissively to her daughter, who is a senior African National Congress (ANC) member and executive mayor of the Polokwane local municipality in Limpopo.
“She doesn’t think she will reach October. We are losing perpetrators as well. Who will be there in October? I don’t know,” Nkadimeng says in Polokwane this week regarding the case involving the 1983 disappearance of her sister Nokuthula Simelane.
Her father died of a heart attack in 2001 before finding closure into his daughter’s death.
Although she was not in court for the inquest case into the 1982 death of trade unionist and activist Neil Aggett in Johannesburg this week, Nkadimeng has been following proceedings with interest.
Aggett was found dead in his cell at John Vorster Square police station on 5 February 1982. The security police claimed he had committed suicide. But his family’s search for the truth continued this week.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard that Simelane, an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operative, was kidnapped while on a mission in Johannesburg in 1983, taken to a farm where she was badly tortured and was never seen alive again. Her final fate remains a mystery.
Nkadimeng says together with the families of other victims of apartheid’s killing machine, including Aggett’s kin, the families of the Cradock Four and Ahmed Timol’s relatives, have formed a close bond and an informal support group in their quest for justice.
“I call it betrayal,” says Nkadimeng, explaining the reluctance by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) to prosecute the more than 300 cases recommended by the TRC.
After handing over the 3 500 page final report of the TRC to then president Nelson Mandela in October 1998, the body recommended that the prosecuting authority further investigate more than 400 cases including Simelane’s, Timol’s, and others.
However the process has been marred by allegations that top government figures from the ANC, which had initially sought to interdict the publication of the final report, had applied pressure on the NPA to investigate and bring the killers to book.
Former NPA head Vusi Pikoli has publicly alluded to the interference in pursuing the cases as a result of pressure from senior government figures and is expected to testify in the Simelane matter.
Four former members of the Soweto security branch Msebenzi Radebe, Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, and Frederick Mong have been implicated in Simelane’s kidnapping and disappearance but have denied murdering her.
As a result of the delay in pursuing the cases, the Simelane, the Timol and Aggett families have taken the decision to individually apply pressure on the NPA to prosecute apartheid era cops who were denied amnesty by the TRC. The pursuit for truth has now become her life’s mission.
“The powers-that-be have betrayed Nokuthula [Simelane], [Steve] Biko. How many families could be able to afford a private investigator? How many families have lost bread winners? What is it that we have done as government? Nothing!
“I did not expect the apartheid government to investigate itself. But I had expectations that an ANC government will investigate. I am not bitter. I am unhappy about it,” Nkadimeng says.
Her battle, which has dragged for over a decade, has emboldened other families who lost loved ones during the struggle against apartheid to approach her for assistance.
Just recently she was approached by the family of a former MK soldier who the TRC heard was killed by an apartheid death squad in Swaziland in 1985 to assist in finding his final resting place. She assists regardless of political affiliation because she says, “the pain of losing a loved one knowns no political affiliation”.
Simelane says she is prepared to sue the state on conclusion of her sister’s case and will use proceeds to assist other families.
“We really need to show cause to the state that what they have done is a greatest injustice that our families had to undergo. If Nokuthula’s case has to open for 400 other cases that [Archbishop Emeritus Desmond] Tutu handed over to the TRC, then let it be. The cases are in boxes in the NPA. They must be investigated with the same tenacity.
“It can’t be half done. I would be betraying those families. For me this is a bigger mission than Nokuthula,” says Nkadimeng.
Although she has very little recollection of her sister who disappeared when she was just 10 in 1983 – Nkadimeng says her mission is driven by a desire for the truth, justice and closure for her parents and older relatives.
Nokuthula, who was 23 when she disappeared, was officially declared dead by the North Gauteng High Court in August last year following a protracted legal battle by her family.
Gilbert Thwala, a witness before the TRC says Simelane was a courier liaising between the Vaal machinery of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the command structure in Swaziland where she was a university student.
Although recollection of her sister is hazy – Nkadimeng recalls how when she visited the family home in Mzinoni township in Bethal, she would spend most of her time indoors and the family always ensured her presence was kept secret.
The family home, which was bombed by apartheid agents in 1985, also served as a safe house for MK cadres including the legendary Barney Molokoane whose unit bombed the Sasol refinery in 1981.
Simelane has paid private investigators and lawyers to pursue her sister’s alleged killers from her own coffers. But it is seeing not the killers rot in jail that she wants.
“If I wanted prosecution we wouldn’t have gone to [the] TRC. [The] TRC never promised us prosecution. It promised us only one thing, the truth. What is my benefit if these people go to Kgoši Mampuru [prison]? There’s no benefit now.
“I am losing financially and emotionally, paying lawyers, transport. Even the lawyers are doing some of the work on their own now out of the goodness of their own hearts. The state is not paying anything.
“I don’t have confidence in the state. They have not investigated, they are bringing charges against Coetzee because they are under the hammer,” she says. – Mukurukuru Media