The Gauteng police commissioner’s refusal to pay for the legal representation of a group of former Soweto security policemen who are accused of murdering female Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) operative Nokuthula Simelane more than three decades ago has resulted in the delay of their criminal trial.
Judge Nomonde Ngqibisa-Thusi yesterday provisionally postponed the trial of former Soweto police officers Msebenzi Radebe, Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederick Mong to November 25 at the request of the defence.
Advocate Johan Gaum, who represents Coetzee, Pretorius and Mong, said his clients had no choice but to approach the court with a review application after the commissioner refused to pay for their legal representation during the trial. He said they were in the process of exchanging court papers and he only expected the matter to be enrolled some time next year.
The former police officers – now all pensioners – are accused of murdering Simelane after she was kidnapped in the parking area at the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg in September 1983.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) only decided in January this year to prosecute the four men for Simelane’s murder after her family tried in vain for decades to have the perpetrators brought to book and launched a court application to force the NPA to prosecute.
Coetzee, Pretorius and Mong were among the former police officers who applied for amnesty before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for kidnapping and torturing Simelane, but not for her murder. Radebe never applied for amnesty.
Simelane, an MK courier, disappeared just a few days before her 24th birthday and her graduation ceremony at the Swaziland University. She was abducted at the Carlton Centre by members of the Soweto security branch and initially held at the Norwood police flats, where she was interrogated and badly beaten. She was then taken to a farm near Thabazimbi, where she was held captive and allegedly cruelly tortured for more than a month.
Pretorius and Coetzee claimed before the TRC Simelane had agreed to become a government agent and was sent back to Swaziland, where they believed she was murdered by MK after her defection was discovered, but other members of the unit testified that she was tortured until she was unrecognisable before she was shot and buried near Rustenburg.
Simelane’s body was never found, but the NPA earlier said there was enough evidence for a successful prosecution.