/ 17 July 2023

‘Station Strangler’ parole: Mitchells Plain residents want 21 unsolved murder cases reopened

Norman Afzal Simons
Norman Afzal Simons, convicted for being ‘the station strangler’, arrives at the Kuilsriver Magistrates Court, Cape Town, 7 June 1994. (AFP)

Days before the “Station Strangler”, Norman “Avzal” Simons, is to be released on parole, Mitchells Plain’s residents are demanding that the 21 unsolved murders he was accused of be reopened and further investigated.

Simons was handed a life sentence in 1995 for the murder and kidnapping of 10-year-old Elroy van Rooyen in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. His arrest came after years of terror gripped the Cape Flats from 1986 to 1994 over the discovery of the bodies of 21 people who had been strangled and sodomised, the majority of them children.

Despite similarities to Van Rooyen’s murder, the state could not provide evidence to link Simons to the 21 killings.

On Sunday, the department of correctional services and the police met Mitchells Plain residents ahead of Simons’ release on 20 July. 

Simons will not live in Mitchells Plain. Instead, he will be under house arrest in Parrow, Bellville.

Michael Jacobs, the deputy chairperson of the Mitchells Plain Residents’ Association, said a budget must be set up and the police at national and provincial level should make available sufficient detective capacity and resources “to ensure that the families of the 21 get the justice they deserve”.  

With residents signalling their agreement, Jacobs argued that the science of forensics was now more advanced than in the 1990s and it was therefore unacceptable that there were victims — five according to him — who were still unidentified to this day. 

Dean Ramjoomia, the founder of the nonprofit Nehemiah Call Initiative, said a report should be compiled with details about each investigation.

Residents said that if the murders were not committed by Simons, then the perpetrator might still be among them.  

Lawrence Venter, regional head of the correctional services department, said that after receiving the notice of Simons’ parole placement, the department felt obligated to trace the families of the 21 murder victims and inform them about his imminent release. Police in Mitchells Plain played a critical role in retrieving the case dockets — now considered cold cases — which enabled the department to find the victims’ families.

He said several families had not come to full terms with the death of their loved ones and that it had been an “eye-opening experience” to meet the victims’ families over the past two weeks. 

“Some of those families we engaged [with,] we found they are still in need of support,” said Venter, adding that some families had not been told all the facts — or believed stories without having the correct facts.” 

He said the police were committed to interacting with each family regarding what had happened to their loved ones nearly three decades ago and that the social development department would offer support through its victim empowerment programme. 

“We can be crucified by saying it is late. It is 28 years later. But rather late than never,” Venter. He clarified that cold cases were not closed and new evidence could be brought in at “any given moment”. 

Simons is expected to be released on Thursday. He will be restricted to the Bellville magisterial area under permanent house arrest and is not allowed to be in the presence of children. Nor would he be allowed to speak to the media without the approval of the department, said Ronnie Bila, the head of community corrections for the Bellville area. 

Shakir Smith, chairperson of the Parow community policing forum, said discussions between residents and the correctional services department would take place on Tuesday, 18 July, two days before his expected release.