Cradock Four families give NPA deadline to decide whether to prosecute suspects

A memorial set up for the 'Cradock Four' (Derrick Spies, News24)
A memorial set up for the 'Cradock Four' (Derrick Spies, News24)

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has until 10 July to decide to prosecute "known suspects" behind the 1985 assassination of Eastern Cape political activists Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli, or face high court action.

Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) and a law firm representing the families of the Cradock Four also want the NPA to explain how the case docket had apparently gone missing at the offices of the NPA two years ago.

The FHR said their action comes after prosecution failed to occur, despite the foundation's private investigator having reconstructed the docket in 2019, and shared it with the NPA and SAPS.

Fort Calata's son and journalist Lukhanyo Calata told News24 on Tuesday that the disappearance of the docket could be an indication of resistance to hold accountable those who committed crimes against humanity.

"It's painful, sad in the sense that the case of my father is one of those that shows the actual brutality of the apartheid government - a systematic brutal regime that oversaw crime against humanity."

He questioned whether there was a lack of purpose from the NPA and the ANC government in holding those responsible to account.

READ | Garden of Remembrance unveiled for slain Cradock Four

Calata said he was three years and eight months old when his father was buried, and the big funeral was the only memory he had of his father.

"Next month, on June 27, it will be exactly 35 years since he was killed. Imagine if we can get some sort of response from the NPA saying 'yes we will prosecute' - that would be a very nice gesture to celebrate during his commemoration and, for me, to stand and say 'dad you can now rest in peace'.”

The Cradock Four were brutally murdered near Port Elizabeth by members of the Security Branch of the erstwhile South African Police, the foundation said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the foundation's spokesperson Ahmed Mayet said: "Last week, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH), which acts pro bono for the Cradock Four families, demanded in writing that the NPA investigate how the criminal docket went missing. CDH also rejected various excuses put up by the NPA for the long delay in finalising this case, noting that such excuses would justify an ad infinitum delay – notwithstanding the fact that the murders took place 35 years ago and suspects, witnesses and families are elderly and dying.

"CDH further noted that the opportunity to hold anyone accountable for one of the most notorious crimes committed in South Africa's history fades with each passing day. CDH accordingly demanded that the NPA decide by no later than 10 July, 2020, whether to prosecute the known suspects in the murder of the Cradock Four. Should no decision be made by close of business on Friday, 10 July, 2020, CDH will launch legal proceedings in the high court to compel a decision," said Mayet.

'Elimination' of activists

NPA national spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke confirmed receiving questions and promised to respond.

At the time of writing, she had not responded. Her comments will be added once we have received the response.

Mayet said: "The Cradock Four investigation docket went missing from the offices of the NPA nearly two years ago. It appears that no investigation has been instituted into how the docket into one of the most serious crimes in South Africa's history disappeared. Family members are deeply concerned that the removal or concealing of the docket is possible indication of an ongoing cover-up or obstruction of justice."

The foundation claims the instruction for the "elimination" of the activists was issued at the highest levels of the apartheid government.

"Notwithstanding the fact that the 1994 Zietsman Inquest concluded that the murders were carried out by the security forces, and the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) disclosed the identities of the suspects in 1998 and recommended to the NPA in 2002 that prosecutions proceed, no such decision has been made. Indeed, the investigation docket has gone missing," said Mayet.

Comment has also been sought from ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe and SAPS spokesperson Vish Naidoo. It will be added once received.

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