Eustice ‘Bimbo’ Madikela, Ntshingo Matabane, Fanyana Nhlapo (collectively known as the COSAS 3) and Zandisile Musi were members of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), an organisation associated with the then banned African National Congress (ANC).
Tlhomedi Ephraim Mfalapitsa was a former member of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military branch of the ANC. However, he later became a Security Branch officer in the South African Police (SAP), turning ‘askari’. Before his defection from the ANC, Mfalapitsa had enjoyed a close relationship with Musi’s brothers, who had served with him in MK, while the men were in exile. After Mfalapitsa joined the SAP, he established contact with Musi. The latter explored the possibility of leaving the country with Mfalapitsa, whom he erroneously believed to be a member of MK.
Mfalapitsa reported their discussions to his superiors, who ordered him to lure Musi and the others to a pump house at a mine near Krugersdorp, under the guise of giving them military training. On or about 15 February 1982, Madikela, Matabane, and Nhlapo were killed, and Musi was seriously injured in an explosion. The incident occurred under circumstances aimed at creating the false impression that the men had accidentally blown themselves up while undergoing military training.
The murders were covered up by the Security Branch and remained concealed until certain of the perpetrators applied for amnesty before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The families were told by the police that the COSAS 4 had blown themselves up.
The actual cause of their deaths was revealed only at the TRC in May 1999 when former Security Branch officers Carel Coetzee, Willem Frederick Schoon, Abraham Grobbelaar, Christiaan Siebert Rorich and the Askari, Mfalapitsa applied for amnesty. They were denied amnesty and the case was referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for further investigation and prosecution. The COSAS 4 case was one of the approximately 400 apartheid era cases suppressed through political interference.
On 2 September 2020, the Pro-Bono Department of Webber Wentzel filed an application on behalf of Maide Selebi (sister of Eustice Madikele) and Patience Nhlapo (cousin of Fanyana Nhlapo), which sought an order from the Krugersdorp Magistrate Court requiring the Mogale City Local Municipality, with the support of the SAPS and the NPA’s Missing Persons Task Unit, to exhume the bodies of the deceased.
After decades of delay, former Askari, Tlhomedi Ephraim Mfalapitsa, and Security Branch explosives expert, Christiaan Sebert Rorich, were charged with kidnapping and murder in August 2021. In November 2021, charges of crimes against humanity of murder and the crime against humanity of Apartheid were added to the indictment.
Since the indictment was issued the trial has been delayed by the refusal of SAPS to pay the legal defence fees of Rorich. Rorich’s legal team indicated that they will bring an application to review the refusal of the SAPS. Such legal proceedings could delay the criminal trial for several years, during which time the accused, who are elderly, may pass away.
On 25 March 2022, the presiding officer in the COSAS 4 case, Judge Mokgoatlheng, heard legal argument on the question of whether to invoke his inherent powers to safeguard the interests of justice, in terms of section 173 of the Constitution, to order the SAPS to pay the reasonable legal costs of the second accused, Christiaan Sebert Rorich. In the arguments, the legal representatives of the Cosas Four families pointed out to the SAPS, as well as to the Court, that the police are bound by the judgment in Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee & Others v Minister of Police & Others, Gauteng Division, Case No. 72747/2016, which set aside the decision of the SAPS not to fund the legal defence of Willem Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederick Mong.
On the 4 May 2022, the Judge delivered the judgment on the legal costs question in the COSAS 4 matter and ordered the SAPS to pay the reasonable costs of the accused in the matter and to notify him about the decision by 24 May 2022. However, SAPS has failed to pay the legal costs in spite of the court’s order.
Resources and legal papers
The TRC’s Human Rights Violation hearing on the murder of the COSAS 4 can be viewed on this link.
A full set of the legal papers filed with the Magistrate’s Court in September 2020 can be viewed on this link.
The court order (18 January 2022) by MOKGOATLHENG J on the legal costs question in the COSAS 4 can be viewed on this link.
Legal Argument ( 25 March 2022) on behalf of the Nhlapo & Madikela Families (legal costs) can be viewed on this link.
The court order (4 May 2022) by MOKGOATLHENG J on the legal costs question in the COSAS 4 case can be viewed on this link.
The judgment (4 May 2022) by MOKGOATLHENG J on the legal costs question in the COSAS 4 case can be viewed on this link.
The application for leave to appeal by the Minister of Police (16 August 2022) – the legal costs question can be viewed on this link.
The application for condonation by the Minister of Police (16 August 2022) – the legal costs question can be viewed on this link.
The application of Ms Selebi (29 August 2022) to intervene as a respondent and to oppose applications of the Minister of Police can be viewed on this link.
The court order (13 January 2023) by MOKGOATLHENG J on the legal cost question can be viewed on this link.