Johannesburg - All Nokuthula Simelane’s family want is for her integrity to be restored and for her to be buried in a dignified place. This was a desperate plea from the deceased activist’s sister, Thembi Nkadimeng, during a media briefing at the Sandton law firm offices of Webber Wentzel on Thursday, more than three decades after Simelane’s death.
Nkadimeng said she did not want any compensation for her sister’s death as Simelane had not been in the Struggle for any benefit. All she expected was for her sister’s integrity to be restored.
“That’s the greatest, ultimate compensation,” Nkadimeng said.
Simelane was kidnapped by the apartheid police’s Soweto Special Branch and was illegally detained at the Norwood police barracks in Joburg for a week, where she was interrogated on ANC operations between South Africa and Swaziland. She was severely tortured.
Simelane was then moved to a farm in the district of Northam in the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo), where the interrogation continued for weeks. She was not seen after that.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said that, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings, the policemen sought amnesty for kidnapping Simelane, claiming she was alive. They also said they had managed to “turn” (change) her and had redeployed her to Swaziland as a spy. However, that evidence was contested by the testimony made by one of the alleged murderers, who said she had been “tortured and brutally murdered and buried around the Rustenburg area”.
Thursday’s media briefing was in reaction to the announcement by the NPA that it would be prosecuting Simelane’s killers.
Nkadimeng, the executive mayor of Polokwane, has worked tirelessly to get justice for her sister, with the help of advocate Muzi Sikhakhane SC; advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, a former TRC commissioner and head of investigations; and Yasmin Sooka, also a former TRC commissioner and the director of the Foundation for Human Rights.
Ntsebeza, Sooka and Nkadimeng welcomed the decision by the NPA to prosecute the killers, while other speakers took a swipe at the agency for taking so long to resolve the matter.
Speaking to The Star, Sooka said she was relieved that something was being done about Simelane’s death. She acknowledged, however, that it was going to be a long process.
“This case is key to many other cases,” Sooka said.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has welcomed the NPA’s decision to prosecute Simelane’s alleged killers.
“I welcome the decision of the NPA to prosecute some of the suspects implicated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of the young freedom fighter Nokuthula Simelane in 1983. It is a most significant and historic decision,” he said in a statement.
Tutu, however, questioned the delay in prosecuting. “What has taken them so long? Why did the authorities turn their backs on the family of Nokuthula, and so many other families, for so many years? Why did the pleas of her family fall on deaf ears for decades?
“Why did it take a substantial application to the high court to get the National Director of Public Prosecutions and the police to do their jobs? Why did successive South African governments take extraordinary steps to obstruct the course of justice?”
Tutu added that recommendations on more than 300 cases for prosecution, including the Simelane matter, were made to the NPA in 2002, but less than a handful of these cases had been pursued.
He said the civil case brought by the Simelane family last year to compel the NPA to take action “reveals that almost immediately after the recommendations were made, the government took steps to close down truth and accountability”.