By Thamsanqa Sesmani

Boniwe Belwana, 44, is filled with a sense of injustice - she can't understand how the killers of her husband have been allowed to walk free while her family continues to suffer from his death.

When she heard that her husband Topsy Madaka had disappeared in 1982 from the Port Elizabeth township where he was involved in student politics, she immediately thought it was a trick on his part designed to allow him to spend more time with his son. But when she checked, she found her son playing at their township home and knew that something was wrong.

She remembers how she teamed up with the parents of Siphiwo Mtimkulu, who disappeared together with Topsy Madaka, in a desperate search to find their loved ones by sending photographs to newspapers.

In early 1982 political turmoil engulfed Port Elizabeth's townships, with class boycotts and clashes with police. Belwana remembers routine harassment from "the branch" - PE's feared security police unit charged with crushing township revolt.

Mtimkulu was a respected student leader. Beza Ntshona, 32, now provincial ANC youth league secretary, was recruited by Mtimkulu at the tender age of 12. He said this week: "It was after his disappearance that I realised I loved the man."

But it was only 15 years later - when four security police testified to the truth commission - that the families and those who were close to the men found out what happened to Topsy Madaka and Siphiwo Mtimkulu.

After being abducted by the security police, the two men were drugged and taken to a remote farm in the Cradock district where they were shot dead, their bodies doused with diesel and burnt for six hours. Their remains were raked up and the charred bodies dumped in the Fish river.

This week, Gideon Johannes Nieuwoudt, Nicolas Jacobus Janse van Rensburg, Hermanus Jacobus du Plessis and Gerrit Nicolas Erasmus were granted amnesty by the truth commission for the killings. Boniwe Belwana and the Mtimkulu family were shocked by the two-to-one decision of the amnesty committee to let the killers go free. The Madaka family will be applying for a review.

Mtimkulu's mother, Joyce Mtimkulu, said: "I will never be satisfied by the decision of the truth commission." She said the commission had delayed judgment since the family had testified in 1997, and now it was suspected that some kind of deal had been done.

Advocate Ntsikelelo Sandi, a member of the three-member committee, disagreed with the decision. He said that the evidence of the applicants showed their reason for murder was not probable or credible.

Before his abduction, Mtimkulu had launched a legal action against the police for being left wheelchair-bound after being poisoned in detention. Sandi said of Mtimkulu: "The conclusion is inescapable that he was killed to mitigate any further damage to the name of the security police and, more importantly, to pre-empt a possible criminal action against the police."

He said it could be concluded that Madaka was murdered because he happened to be in the company of Mtimkulu.

Belwana, who is now a teacher in Port Elizabeth's Zwide township, said the truth commission process had opened old wounds for her. Her son, Ngawethu, suffered at school because the gruesome details of how his father died prevented him from grasping anything at school.

And even though the family now know what happened to Topsy, there are other loose ends which she still wants tied up.

Belwana said that when Madaka disappeared his "brand new 1982" model Mazda disappeared as well. Madaka had also had a life assurance policy for his son and his brother's son, which she could not cash because there was no proof of death. She said she had received no compensation from the government apart from the R2 000 given to her son to help with his education. This was not sufficient and her son had had to stop studying in his first year at a Cape Town college because he ran out of money.

This week, in calling for a review of the truth commission's finding, she said that she intended asking the Human Rights Commission to investigate the decision.

She also wants help from the truth commission in connection with the insurance policy and the car, saying her son can now drive a car and "should get something from his father. Even Nieuwoudt, where he is, has something for his children." - ECN Weekend