A 33-year wait for jus­tice

CityPress - - News - S’THEM­BILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za

Thembi Nkadi­meng was just nine when her sis­ter went miss­ing.

She re­mem­bers an­swer­ing a call from some­one from Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), who asked if Nokuthula Sime­lane – a courier for MK be­tween South Africa and Swazi­land – had re­turned home from a meet­ing. She told him her sis­ter was not home and had not been home for some time. Her mother, wary about some­one en­quir­ing about her child, snatched the phone away. She then called for pen and pa­per, and started mak­ing notes.

This year, Sime­lane will have been miss­ing, pre­sumed dead, for 33 years.

When she dis­ap­peared, she was just days away from ob­tain­ing a de­gree in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Univer­sity of Swazi­land. Her fam­ily trav­elled to Swazi­land from Mpumalanga for her grad­u­a­tion, hop­ing she would show up. She wasn’t there.

It took Nkadi­meng a long time to fully grasp what had hap­pened.

“All I knew at that stage was that she no longer vis­its,” she said on Thurs­day.

On Mon­day, the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA) an­nounced it would pros­e­cute four mem­bers of the Soweto Spe­cial Branch in con­nec­tion with Sime­lane’s mur­der. The NPA has de­clined to re­veal their names, and they will ap­pear in the Pre­to­ria Mag­is­trates’ Court on Fe­bru­ary 26 on charges of mur­der.

Nkadi­meng smiles briefly when rem­i­nisc­ing about her sis­ter.

“She loved read­ing. She loved cook­ing. She was a three-course meal type of per­son, but she would al­ways eat dessert first. Dessert was cus­tard and jelly in those times. She was tall and slim, and so beau­ti­ful. She had a sense of style. She was my role model. When I look at the peo­ple who were her friends, peo­ple like [sec­re­tary of de­fence] Mpumi Mpofu, I pic­ture who she could have been to­day.”

Un­til the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) hear­ings took place, the fam­ily hoped that Sime­lane had sim­ply gone un­der­ground and would re­turn at some point.

“I went to the TRC with my fam­ily. It was very painful for all of us. We were in tears. It was sad. It was grue­some. It was the first time we in­ter­acted with the facts and the judges were so thor­ough. They asked: ‘Did you kick her? Did you punch her? What did you do?’ And they said: ‘We would throw her into the dam; she would soil her­self. We would cover her with a wet bag un­til she would lose con­scious­ness.’

“It was worse for my mum. She suf­fered a ner­vous break­down. We were so hope­ful that process would bring us ul­ti­mate clo­sure,” Nkadi­meng said.

Sime­lane’s re­mains have never been found.

The fam­ily re­cently buried an­other rel­a­tive. Last year, Lun­gelo Sime­lane died of colon can­cer shortly af­ter the fam­ily ap­plied to the North Gaut­eng High Court for an or­der to force the NPA to open an in­quest into his sis­ter’s mur­der.

“He was close to my sis­ter, born af­ter her. He was one of the last peo­ple to see my sis­ter. He saw her the day be­fore she left,” Nkadi­meng said.

In court pa­pers, for­mer NPA head Vusi Pikoli claimed that at­tempts to pros­e­cute those who didn’t ap­ply for amnesty were blocked by se­nior ANC politi­cians.

Nkadi­meng’s 75-year-old mother still cries ev­ery day. Nkadi­meng de­cided not to tell her that the NPA was go­ing to pros­e­cute the men be­cause she was afraid of dis­ap­point­ing her with yet an­other de­lay. But on Mon­day, the fam­ily was told af­ter the news broke, and Nkadi­meng had to rush home and tell her mother be­fore any­one else did.

“I sent my un­cle’s child to go be with her in case she found out and col­lapsed. When I re­ceived the let­ter from the NPA by email, I lay in bed alone and cried. At first I won­dered why I was born into this fam­ily. I wish I had a choice,” said Nkadi­meng, who is the mayor of Polok­wane.

“I wish peo­ple could un­der­stand, be­cause I don’t think I’m strong. Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what hap­pens to me when I am alone. To be hon­est, I break down. But I can’t do it to my mum, and that is the only per­son who would un­der­stand. I can’t do it to my kids be­cause they ex­pect me to be strong.”

The fam­ily will got to court in two weeks’ time, car­ry­ing with them only a glim­mer of hope but no trust, and se­ri­ous scep­ti­cism, af­ter al­most 33 years of wait­ing.

Thembi Nkadi­meng

Nokuthula Sime­lane

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