Former Umkhonto we Sizwe operative Nokuthula Simelane. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Former Umkhonto we Sizwe operative Nokuthula Simelane was declared dead by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria after her family spent 36 years looking for her following her abduction by the special branch of the apartheid police in September 1983.

The certificate of declaration of death issued yesterday came after her family made a formal application at the court in June this year, arguing that if she was indeed alive, she would have visited their family home, especially her ailing mother, in Bethal, Mpumalanga.

Nokuthula’s sister, Thembi Nkadimeng - executive mayor of Polokwane Local Municipality - lodged the application following her disappearance after she was captured by apartheid security branch officers outside the Carlton Centre in Joburg, 36 years ago.

In her papers, Nkadimeng said: “We know from the TRC hearings that my sister suffered terribly at the hands of the secret branch.

"We know that she refused to collaborate with the forces of apartheid. For this, she paid the ultimate price.”

According to her, given her sister’s grim state when she was last seen alive, the family believed it was beyond debate that Simelane was dead.

She said Nokuthula was tortured for several weeks and her family's efforts to find her were fruitless.

She added: “My mother is 79 years old. She is not well ever since my sister’s disappearance. I lost my brother in 2015 and my father two years ago.

"Both left without knowing the circumstances that led to my sister's disappearance. I think this ruling will give us closure.”

Judge Elizabeth Mmamoloko Kubushi ordered that the presumption of death be published in the Government Gazette and various newspapers for a period of 15 days.

Kubushi said this would enable those who were opposed to the application to come forward and submit new evidence in court, but she was adamant that the evidence placed before her had shown that Simelane was no longer alive.

The judge made the preliminary ruling after Simelane’s counsel, advocate Howard Varney, detailed efforts made by the family to trace her, including testifying before the TRC and the Amnesty Committee in 1997 and 1998 respectively.

“Nokuthula was abducted in September 1983 in what was known as Operation Kopdraai. As an ANC operative, the apartheid security branch officers wanted to turn her into an informer.

“The black officers testified before the TRC that Nokuthula was severely beaten until she could not walk on her own. She was beaten until she urinated and soiled herself,” advocate Varney said.

He said the white officers denied any involvement in the brutal attack but admitted only to kidnapping her.

Varney told the court about the family's trauma at having made countless failed efforts to force law enforcement agencies to probe the murder. These efforts included appointing two private investigators to assist them in their mission to locate her, but all in vain.

Their application was not opposed. On Wednesday, the court issued the authorisation of the death certificate.

Political Bureau