Pretoria - The long-awaited criminal trial of two former security police officers accused of being involved in the kidnapping and murder of anti-apartheid activist Nokuthula Simelane has again been delayed.
Yesterday the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, was told that one of the accused may not be fit to stand trial.
Willem Coetzee and Anton Pretorius briefly appeared in court this week, where the matter was postponed to August 23.
Advocate Jaap Cilliers, who appeared on behalf of both accused, told Judge Papi Mosopa that there was a possibility that Coetzee may not be fit to stand trial.
He said a specialist had issued a preliminary report which indicated that he may suffer from dementia. Cilliers said as things stood, he could not follow or understand the criminal proceedings or complex discussions.
Cilliers said Coetzee was due to be further assessed to ascertain what his health situation was. According to the advocate, Coetzee had just recovered after testing positive for Covid-19 and his current health issues could be related to that.
The defence undertook to issue the prosecution with the final doctor’s report before August to decide on the way forward. This is whether Coetzee should be referred by the court for mental observation so that a panel of experts can ultimately decide on his fitness to stand trial.
Judge Mosopa said as Coetzee was at this stage not fit to understand the proceedings, whether he should not be sent for observation to avoid a future delay in this case.
“This is a very old matter. The accused are old and the witnesses are old,” the judge said. The prosecution agreed and said it was best that a state institution should assess Coetzee.
Cilliers, however, said it was premature at this stage and it was best to wait for the final report by the expert.
Simelane, who would have been in her early fifties now, was allegedly abducted and tortured by former apartheid Security Branch members in 1983.
The accused are facing, among others, a murder charge after Simelane was allegedly abducted in the parking area of the Carlton Centre in the Joburg CBD at the time.
It is claimed the then 23-year-old was tortured and killed. Her family has been waiting for answers for more than three decades.
The then national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams decided to prosecute the accused for her murder based on evidence gathered by the priority crimes litigation unit of the National Prosecuting Authority following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings.
The accused were released on R5 000 bail each.
Their trial was put on hold for a long time as they fought a legal battle for the police to pay their legal fees.
The court earlier ruled that the State was liable for their legal fees and that it had failed the Simelane family in refusing to pay up. This caused the trial to drag, while the family waited for justice.
Simelane was at the time of her disappearance in 1983 a university graduate and courier for Umkhonto we Sizwe, the now defunct military wing of the ANC.
She moved between Swaziland and South Africa. She was said to have been betrayed by one of her own, abducted and brutally tortured by the Security Branch of the former SAP in September 1983.
She was never seen again. Her family also earlier obtained an order that she is presumed to be dead.