Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
3 minute read
11 Nov 2021
12:44 pm

Call to reopen apartheid murder cases

Brian Sokutu

NPA accused of suppressing the investigations.

A group of children stand behind the graves of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli, collectively known as the Cradock 4, a group of United Democratic Front members who were abducted and killed by apartheid security police. Photo: Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive

After years of indecisiveness to prosecute individuals involved in apartheid-era murders, emanating from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), former TRC commissioners, families of political activists killed and organs of civil society, want government to establish an independent, public and open commission of inquiry into the suppression of TRC cases – allegedly by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

With Justice Minister Ronald Lamola taking flak over his approach to the suppressed cases, government is headed for a collision course with former TRC commissioners, families of political activists killed and organs of civil society.

According to Justice spokesperson Chrispin Phiri, the department – working with the NPA – were “in a process of finalising a mechanism that will enable the establishment of all the facts, which have subjectively and objectively compromised the work of the NPA in these cases”.

Phiri said a retired judge would be approached to assist in the process.

ALSO READ: Cradock Four families ask court to compel state to reveal records

Sharply differing with government on how to speed up the handling of the murder cases by the NPA, former TRC commissioners and TRC committee members have proposed terms of reference of a judicial service commission of inquiry into the alleged suppression of the cases referred by the TRC to the NPA.

Included in the terms of reference shared with Lamola and President Cyril Ramaphosa, the former TRC commissioners want:

  • The appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry, in terms of Section 84(2)(f) of the constitution to investigate the alleged suppression of cases referred by the TRC to the NPA.
  • The commission to inquire into, make findings, report on and make recommendations – guided by court papers filed in Nkadimeng versus the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) case in 2015. Court papers and judgment in the Joao Rodrigues versus the NDPP in 2019, should also be used as reference.
  • The inquiry probe the role played in the alleged interference by any person within or outside government.

Some of the unresolved murder cases

Being arrested by the apartheid-era Special Branch – then South Africa’s most notorious police unit – could spell severe torture, death or a mysterious permanent disappearance from society.

Unresolved murder cases involving Special Branch members – said to be running to over 300 – included:

  • Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee, a 26-year-old dentist who died in police custody on 3 August, 1977. Police alleged that he hanged himself with his trousers from a grille door, at Durban’s Brighton Beach Police Station.
  • The Cradock Four – Eastern Cape anti-apartheid activists Matthew Goniwe, Sicelo Mhlauli, Fort Calata and Sparrow Mkonto who died on 27 June 1985, while on their way back to Cradock from Port Elizabeth.
  • Dr Neil Hudson Aggett, a medical doctor and trade union organiser, who was found hanging in his cell at John Vorster Square after 70 days in police custody.
  • Nokuthula Aurelia Simelane, who disappeared in 1983 after being abducted and tortured by members of the Special Branch. In 2001, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted some of the perpetrators amnesty for Simelane’s abduction, but none of the perpetrators applied for amnesty for her murder. In 2016, a prosecution was brought against Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Mong and Msebenzi Radebe over her murder.
  • Imam Abdullah Haron, an Islamic scholar who died on 27 September, 1969 while in police custody. A 1970 inquest ruled that Haron had fallen to his death.

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