Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A judgment by the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday compelling the police to pay the legal costs of former security policemen accused of murdering Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) courier Nokuthula Simelane in 1983 establishes an important principle‚ says a group campaigning for the prosecution of apartheid-era human rights violations.

The Foundation for Human Rights says the judgment confirms the accused were not on a private frolic but were part of the apartheid state’s machinery.

Simelane was a 23-year-old University of Swaziland graduate when she disappeared in Johannesburg while on a mission for MK‚ which was the armed wing of the ANC. She was allegedly abducted and tortured by the security branch of the former South African Police. Simelane was never seen again. A statue in her honour has since been erected in Bethal‚ Mpumalanga.

Her younger sister Thembi Nkadimeng has fought tirelessly to discover how her sibling died.

In 2016‚ a prosecution was brought against Willem Coetzee‚ Anton Pretorius‚ Frederick Mong and Msebenzi Radebe‚ formerly of the Soweto Special Branch police‚ for their alleged role in her murder. The case was delayed when they asked for the police to pay their legal costs.

Yasmin Sooka‚ head of the Foundation for Human Rights and a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)‚ hailed Tuesday’s court ruling on the matter by Justice Cynthia Pretorius.

"The judgment is confirmation that the three accused of Simelane’s murder were not on a private frolic of their own but were part of the apartheid state’s apparatus.

"While we are pleased that former security policemen have been indicted for her murder and now hope for a speedy trial‚ these three ought not to be the only ones. At what point will the National Prosecuting Authority [NAP] indict those at command level?" Sooka asked.

The foundation is co-ordinating a team of lawyers‚ investigators and human rights activists — including representatives of the Legal Resources Centre‚ Khulumani Support Group and law-firm Webber Wentzel‚ detective Frank Dutton‚ Advocate Howard Varney‚ and the nephew of the late Ahmed Timol‚ Imtiaz Cajee — pursuing justice in eight apartheid-era crimes‚ including Simelane’s disappearance. In 2017, the team succeeded in persuading the NPA to re-open the inquest into Timol’s death in detention in 1971‚ and the judge to replace the apartheid inquest’s suicide finding with one of murder at the hands of police.

The eight cases they are pursuing are among the more than 300 cases recommended by the TRC for further investigation.

This week‚ Pretorius found it would be in the public interest for the trial of the three former policemen to commence as soon as possible to ensure justice was done in respect of the family‚ the accused and society. It was also in the public interest that the three applicants in the case had proper legal representation.

She ordered that the decision of the South African Police Service (SAPS) not to pay the costs be set aside; that the three accused were entitled to payment of their legal costs by the SAPS; and that the minister of police and the provincial commissioner Gauteng SAPS were jointly and severally liable for the costs of the application.