Former Soweto Special Branch members Tim Radebe, Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederik Mong in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on February 26 where they were charged with the 1983 murder of Nokuthula Simelane. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
THE family of uMkhonto weSizwe operative Nokuthula Simelane, who was abducted 35 years ago and still remains missing, has blamed the post-apartheid government for the misery and anxiety of not knowing her whereabouts.

The chilling comments were heard in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, yesterday where Simelane’s sister, Thembi Nkadimeng, made a formal application for the State to pay the legal fees of three apartheid police officers charged with her murder.

Nkadimeng, ANC mayor in Polokwane, expressed her outrage against the government for its alleged refusal to give legal assistance to Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederick Barnard Mong.

The three police officers, given amnesty by the TRC for their role in the abduction of Simelane in the basement of the Carlton Centre in the Joburg CBD in September 1983, are now standing accused of her murder.

Coetzee, Pretorius, Mong and Timothy Radebe - who is not applying for legal assistance - were only charged on February 26, 2016, in the Pretoria Regional Court following the family's lengthy battle with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). They are out on bail of R5 000.

Yesterday, Nkadimeng, through her legal counsel, Muzi Sikhakhane SC, argued that the court should force the State to pay the legal fees of the three officers as they acted on instructions of senior police officers when they abducted Simelane in 1983.

“They acted within the cause and scope of the police. They used state machinery. It is common cause that Nokuthula, aged 23, was abducted at Carlton Centre by the Special Branch. She was tortured and beaten beyond recognition. It was a policy of the state to do ‘kopdraai’ which was to turn those opposed to apartheid into informers. This happened through untold suffering and torture,” Sikhakhane said.

He said the three officers were pursuing the goals of the “criminal state” to do what the state expected them to do to preserve apartheid.

Appealing to the court to grant the order, Sikhakhane said Simelane was failed by the apartheid government to reveal her whereabouts - and the post-apartheid government for allegedly delaying the prosecution of those involved in her disappearance.

“The family want to know whether she was fed to lions or crocodiles, or where her body is. To her family, Nokuthula was not a terrorist; she was just a little girl,” Sikhakhane said.

In her court papers, Nkadimeng described the government’s delay as “the second betrayal of Nokuthula and everything she stood for".

"This betrayal cut the deepest as it seemed that even her own comrades, who were now in government, sought to sweep things under the carpet.

“This deprived me and my family of closure and our right to dignity. My father, Matthew Simelane, went to his grave without knowing what happened to Nokuthula.

“My brother, Antonio Lungelo Simelane, died in 2016 after suffering from years of anxiety and depression. My mother, Sizakele Ernestina Simelane, now 77 years old and sick with nervous tension, fears that she will die without knowing; and without burying Nokuthula’s remains with the dignity she deserves,” Nkadimeng said.

The State, however, has asked the court not to grant Simelane's request, saying Coetzee and Pretorius quit the police in 1997 which excluded them from obtaining legal assistance. The State’s advocate, Hamilton Maenetje, argued that Mong would be considered for legal aid as he was still attached to the police service in Vereeniging.

Maenetje, however, raised eyebrows in court when he argued that the three officers, charged with the murder, could have exceeded their powers if they were to be positively linked to the murder.

He said the then standing orders of the police did not allow people to kill, but counsel for Nkadimeng was quick to object saying Maenetje was using a section in the present constitution to justify their decision not to grant legal assistance to the trio.

Judgment was reserved.