I want to know the truth, says sister of MK operative missing for 33 years

2016-02-12 17:48
Nokuthula Simelane, an anti-apartheid activist who disappeared in 1983. (City Press)

Nokuthula Simelane, an anti-apartheid activist who disappeared in 1983. (City Press)

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Johannesburg - The sister of Nokuthula Simelane, an uMkhonto we Sizwe operative who went missing in 1983 after she was kidnapped, says she wants to know the truth.

Thembi Nkadimeng has been trying to get answers for the past 33 years, but to no avail.

Now, a  glimmer of hope has emerged with the announcement by the National Prosecuting Authority this week that it would be prosecuting four men linked to Simelane's kidnapping in 1983.

"2016 marks the 33rd anniversary of my sister's disappearance," Nkadimeng told reporters this week.

"We have heard from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) how she was captured, how she was abducted, where she was kidnapped, the extent of torture, but it did not end there.

"We want to know ultimately what happened to her and 33 years has been a long time coming for my mom," Nkadimeng said.

National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams had made the decision to pursue the matter in court on January 30, NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said on Monday. 

This was based on evidence gathered by the NPA's priority crimes litigation unit following the TRC hearings, Mfaku said.

'In her name I will walk'

Simelane was 23 when she was arrested. She was apparently on an ANC mission to South Africa from Swaziland, under the pretext that she was going to buy graduation attire.

She was allegedly taken to Norwood, in Johannesburg, then was later moved to a farm in Vlakplaas, North West, where they continued to tortured her.

Although the NDPP's decision had given Simelane's family hope, Nkadimeng said that after countless disappointments and setbacks over the years, her family had grown increasingly frustrated and weary.

"There's a glimmer of hope, but no trust," Nkadimeng said. 

"In the years that have been mentioned, I have done all I could to maintain and keep the trust. I have met anybody I thought it matters to talk to, I've been to the farm, I've seen the den [where she was allegedly kept].

"I even went to a refuse dump which is not very far from the farm, just trying to establish... what could be the thinking of a person who was torturing a person in this space."

During all those years of taking it upon herself to investigate her sister's disappearance, she began having less and less faith in the justice system.

"I've cried, laughed, everything in trying to resolve this matter... but there is one thing I have learnt - to keep walking, and in her name I will walk.

"I have learnt to live under those circumstances. If I happen to get a different response, it will just be a bonus. I have no expectations."

Nkadimeng described her sister, who would have been 56 this year, as someone who was raised in a loving family.

She was  affectionately known in her inner circle as Noks and had secured herself a scholarship while studying at the University of Swaziland. She lived in the neighbouring country with her grandmother.

Simelane, like many others her age, had joined the African National Congress with the aim of fighting for the country's liberation from apartheid.

Two weeks before her graduation ceremony, Simelane defied her parents' orders not to return to South Africa, by going to a meeting at the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg where she was subsequently kidnapped.

"I do believe she knew how dangerous it was for her to undertake or participate in underground activities," Nkadimeng said. The family did not expect any accolades for her sister's role in the struggle.

"I believe she knew that it is a choice between life and death, and we do accept that for every battle there are casualties and we are grateful that even with that understanding, she still made the choice to do it."

However, Nkadimeng said her family would not rest until the truth about what had happened to her sister was revealed.

'We can't assist you, we are busy'

Her wariness at the NPA's decision to prosecute the matter was born out of years of being shut out by officials from the same organisation.

"I interacted with the NPA in 2009 [and] they said, 'We have all our investigators dedicated to the 2010 World Cup. We are sorry... we can't assist you, we are busy'.

"They closed the door and said 'the record says she is unknown so you must tell us what you think could have happened'."

That response forced Nkadimeng and her family to hire a private investigator.

"So it was not by choice that we investigated... we had to pull a team together and undertake investigations on our own."

When she received a letter from the NPA informing her family that they would be prosecuting the matter, Nkadimeng said she did not believe it.

"As much as I am grateful to the NPA... when I received the letter I didn't believe it. I didn't tell my mom... because I was still expecting another delay, even though I had the letter in my hand."

There were about 300 other families with similar cases who also wanted closure, Nkadimeng said. She hoped they wouldn't have to fight their way to justice the same way her family had.

"Let there be no mother again who goes through what my mom has gone through."

She hoped her sister's case would lead to the reopening of others sitting in boxes labelled "unresolved".

"May they get out of that box and be put back on the table [allowing] all those families to have closure."

Read more on:    umkhonto we sizwe  |  johannesburg

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