Court orders SAPS to pay legal costs of former policemen accused of MK vet's murder

2018-06-05 21:26
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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The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has ordered the South African Police Service (SAPS) to pay the legal costs of former officers accused of murdering Umkhonto weSizwe operative Nokuthula Simelane in 1983.

In a statement, the Foundation for Human Rights said Tuesday's ruling "establishes an important principle in the quest to finally hold those perpetrators of human rights violations who evaded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process, or had amnesty applications declined, accountable for their crimes".

Simelane, was allegedly abducted, detained and tortured by former apartheid-era Soweto security branch members in 1983.

Three of the security police officers, Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederick Mong, were granted amnesty by the TRC for Simelane's abduction and detention. A fourth officer, Tim Radebe, never applied for amnesty.

ALSO READ: Ahmed Timol's legal teams asks South Africans to help expose truth of 8 other apartheid-era deaths

The foundation quoted Judge Cynthia Pretorius saying: "The delay has lasted decades. Since the indictment of the three applicants, four postponements had already been granted in order to resolve the issue of legal assistance."

It said Pretorius found that the State had "abysmally failed" Simelane and her family.

Head of the foundation and former TRC commissioner Yasmin Sooka said the ruling was a confirmation that the three accused 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 indict those at command level?"

In 2016, after 32 years of fighting, the four were charged with Simelane's murder, following a decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to pursue the case.

READ: Please tell us what happened to Nokuthula - former MK commander

Since 2016, the criminal case has been postponed several times as a result of an ongoing dispute in which the SAPS declined to pay the legal costs for three of the accused.

The High Court previously heard that both Simelane's father and brother died fighting for answers and justice and that her mother was ill, News24 reported.

Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, SC, representing Simelane's sister Polokwane Mayor Thembi Nkadimeng, told the court at the time that the family wanted the criminal case to go ahead "so that the case can be resolved speedily, so the family can know what happened to their sister, their daughter".

"Therefore, any further delay would add to that injustice," said Sikhakhane.

Nkadimeng had joined her sister's alleged killers, apartheid police officers, in a court application in a bid to force SAPS to pay their legal fees so that the family can finally get closure.

He explained that this was why the family had joined the application alongside Simelane's alleged murderers.

He further argued the special branch members were acting within the cause and scope of their work when they abducted Simelane from Carlton Centre in Johannesburg, before taking her to Norwood and then to a farm in Vlakplaas, North West, where she was tortured for weeks.

Sikhakhane said that to abduct, detain and torture supposed enemies of the state in order to turn them into informants was the policy of the apartheid government. He said in Simelane's case, it was authorised by the police officers' superiors.

The practice was called "kop draai", Sikhakhane added.

Advocate Ngwako Maenetje, SC, for the SAPS, argued that the provision in law regarding legal fees being paid by the state for police officers didn't make allowances for former employees.

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