After 35 years of fruitlessly searching for former Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) fighter Nokuthula Simelane, her family has given up hope of finding her alive. They are now seeking an order from the high court in Pretoria for the official presumption of her death in an effort to find closure.
Sizakele Simelane lives in the farming town of Bethal in Mpumalanga. In 1983, Nokuthula, her eldest daughter, was taken by the Security Branch and was never seen again.
In the years that followed, Sizakele has suffered further losses. Her husband died, followed by the death of her son in 2017, who suffered from depression and anxiety. Thembi Nkadimeng, her daughter, has spent more than three decades looking for her sister.
Nokuthula was tortured by the Security Branch. She was beaten, suffocated with a wet bag and electrocuted. She was also deprived of sleep.
The details of her torture were revealed by black Security Branch members, who are said to have participated in the assault. Two of them were granted amnesty for torture by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
But four other men, who are believed to have been responsible for her death, are yet to stand trial.
Now Nkadimeng has filed an ex parte application for Nokuthula to be officially presumed dead. In a confirmatory affidavit attached to Nkadimeng’s papers, Sizakele said, given the extent of her daughter’s suffering and the modus operandi of the Security Branch, there is no chance that Nokuthula is alive.
“We have tried to find out what happened to Nokuthula but do not have answers. The Security Branch officers who murdered her have cruelly refused to disclose the where -abouts of Nokuthula’s last resting place,” Sizakele said in court papers.
“I have lost all hope that my daughter is alive and submit that the evidence overwhelmingly points to the contrary. I accordingly pray that this court grant the order for the presumption of death sought by Thembi.”
Nokuthula was abducted at the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg after an askari, Norman Mkhonza, an MK member turned state operative, lured her to a meeting there in September 1983.
Nokuthula, who was a courier for MK, was taken to a Security Branch operational office in Norwood, where she was interrogated.
She was then transferred to Northam Farm in North West, where she was tortured so brutally that her face was unrecognisable and her body so badly injured that she could not walk by herself.
“I submit that the brutal conditions of Nokuthula’s detention and her unrelenting and vicious treatment at the hands of the perpetrators left her in such a weakened physical state that she would have died if she was not afforded urgent medical treatment in hospital,” Nkadimeng said in her founding affidavit.
Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Mong and Msebenzi Radebe are the former security police officers who have been accused of Nokuthula’s murder and are awaiting trial after numerous delays. None of them was given amnesty by the TRC for her murder or torture.
It has been difficult for the Simelane family to find closure, but Nkadimeng hopes the court order will finally bring some healing.
“We as the family seek and are entitled to closure. Declaring my sister to be presumed dead will be a meaningful step in the process of our healing as a family.”
The ultimate insult
In Bethal, a life-size bronze statue of the eldest Simelane sibling, Nokuthula Simelane, was erected in 2009. It shows her holding a pair of sandals in one hand and a tambourine in the other. She wears a graduation gown and is barefoot. A tribute poem is inscribed at the base of the memorial.
But in recent years, it has been desecrated and even stolen.
In January 2011, the statue was broken from its base and a rope was tied around its neck. It was then tied to a vehicle and dragged through the streets of Bethal. Two white men were arrested and 25-year-old Bethal resident Cornelius van Tonder was found guilty of malicious damage to property. — Ra’eesa Pather