The family of former UMkhonto we Sizwe operative, Nokuthula Simelane, has welcomed the decision by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to declare her provisionally dead pending opposition from her alleged killers.
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 Carlton Centre in Joburg, 36 years ago.
On Thursday, Judge Elizabeth Mamoloko Kubushi granted the application after the family, through its counsel Adv Howard Varney, recounted the troubles her family endured in trying to find her alive or her remains without any success.
The court also heard how the family knocked on the doors of the National Prosecuting Authority and other law enforcement agencies without any joy.
Nkadimeng told Independent Media that her search for her older sister, who was 23 years old and a university graduate, began 22 years ago, when she noticed that her parents were too frail to continue the fight to find her.
“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. It was said that after she was captured by the security forces, she was tortured for several weeks.
Nkadimeng said that they did not expect the previous apartheid-era government to investigate her disappearance, but had hoped the new government would.
“We were wrong, as it took the family many years to force the authorities to consider a prosecution.”
On Thursday, she said the court ruling would enable them to find closure.
“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,” Nkadimeng said.
Judge Kubushi ordered that the presumption of death be placed in a government gazette and various newspapers for a period of 15 days.
Judge Kubushi said this would enable those who are opposed to the application to come forward and submit new evidence in court, but she was adamant that the evidence placed before her has shown that Simelane was no longer alive.
If no opposition is made - a final order is expected to be made on August 8 - on the even of Women’s Day.
The Judge made the preliminary ruling after Simelane’s counsel Adv Howard Varney detailed efforts made by the family to trace her including testifying before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Amnesty Committee in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
“Nokuthula was abducted in September 1993 in what was known as Operation Kopdraai. As an ANC operative, the apartheid security branch 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,” Adv Varney said.
He said the white officers denied any involvement in the brutal attack but only admitted to kidnapping her.
Adv Varney also told the court about the family trauma of having made countless failed efforts to force the law enforcement agencies to probe the murder, including appointing two private investigators.