Summary: Justice after 33 years for family of forcibly disappeared anti-apartheid activist

Johannesburg, 8 February 2016: after 33 years, the South Africa National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has announced that it will charge four former security policemen with the murder and kidnapping of anti-apartheid activist Nokuthula Simelane. This will be the first prosecution of apartheid-era perpetrators since 2007.

Nokuthula Simelane was abducted, tortured and forcibly disappeared by members of the Security Branch of the former South African Police in 1983. She was a 23-year-old university graduate who was a courier for Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, moving between Swaziland and South Africa. Her remains have never been found. Her family has been denied the right to bury their daughter and has been pursuing justice with assistance from SRT grantee the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

In 1996 a police docket was opened on the case. In 2001 the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted some of the perpetrators amnesty for Nokuthula’s abduction. None of the perpetrators applied for amnesty for her murder. Years of negotiations and correspondence with the NPA yielded no official action. Pleas for an inquest were denied and requests to institute criminal proceedings against the suspects who did not apply for amnesty were refused.

Left with no alternative, the family filed papers before the High Court in May 2015, seeking to compel the National Director of Public Prosecution (NDPP) to make a decision with regards to prosecution. Despite having filed a notice to oppose the case, the NDPP brought the family to the negotiating table and decided to prosecute four of the suspected perpetrators for the murder and kidnapping of Nokuthula. Angela Mudukuti, International Criminal Justice Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, commended the NDPP for “a bold step, one that his predecessors were either unwilling or unable to take”; however she added that “no one should have to wait for 33 years before justice is done”.

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