To: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For Immediate Release
Date: 19 October 2023
The State Attorney’s Office causes a further delay in the Nokuthula Simelane’s matter
Press Statement by the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel
The matter of the murder and enforced disappearance of the MK-operative Nokuthula Simelane is facing further delays after the death of the attorney, for one of the accused: Willem Coetzee.
The matter was meant to proceed on 17 October 2023 in the Gauteng High Court Pretoria, with an application by Coetzee in terms of section 77(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act, for an inquiry into his fitness to stand trial.
This hearing could not proceed, because since the passing of Coetzee’s state appointed attorney, Mr. Wagner on 10 September 2023, the office of the state attorney has failed to appoint a new attorney. This is notwithstanding that the inquiry was due to proceed on 17 October.
Judge Mashudu Munzhelele recorded her frustration with these further delays, on this occasion caused by the apathy of the state attorney’s office. The matter was postponed until 6 November 2023 for the accused to secure new legal representation. The accused has to report back on that day. If the appointment of a new attorney is not made by then, the National Prosecuting Authority could bring an application in terms of section 342A of the Criminal Procedure Act to ask the court to look into the delays on the part of the accused. In the view of the family such an application should have been brought months, if not years ago.
The inquiry into Coetzee’s fitness to stand trial has been postponed to 23 to 26 January 2024.
This is the latest delay in the Simelane family’s decades-long quest for justice for criminal accountability for the disappearance of Nokuthula Simelane in 1983. Nokuthula was a young student and an MK operative of the African National Congress when she was abducted, brutally tortured and forcibly disappeared at the hands of members of the Soweto Security Branch of the South African Police. Her family has never seen her again; neither has her body been discovered.
The trial of the remaining implicated Security Branch operatives, Willem Coetzee and Anton Pretorius, has been beset with delays. The two other accused, Msebenzi Radebe and Frederick Mong, died in 2019 and 2021, respectively, without standing trial.
The Simelane family, represented by the Webber Wentzel Pro Bono team with support from the Foundation for Human Rights, are deeply disheartened by the repeated delays.
Since the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) indicted the four accused in the Nokuthula Simelane matter on 14 March 2016, the trial has faced countless postponements. Initially, the case was delayed by the South African Police Services (SAPS) refusal to pay the legal costs of defence of the accused, former Security Branch Officers of the SAP, and other interlocutory applications brought by the accused. The family had to intervene in these proceedings. The court eventually ruled that the SAPS, as the successor in title to the SAP, was obliged to pay the reasonable legal costs of the accused.
More delay was caused by the claim in June 2022 by Coetzee’s legal team that he was mentally unfit to stand trial based on a “preliminary” 2-page medical report, which the NPA did not challenge, even though it was submitted barely 24 hours before the trial was due to commence. Coetzee was subsequently deemed fit to stand trial by a state psychiatrist in December 2022. Since the defence team indicated that they wished to challenge the finding of the state psychiatrist, the case was further postponed to 9 February 2023 and then 12 to 14 June 2023 at the request of Coetzee’s legal team and with the agreement of the NPA for an inquiry in terms of section 77(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act.
These continued delays cause immeasurable harm to Nokuthula’s elderly mother and other family members who have been waiting for justice since 1983.
For media enquiries contact:
Mx Kholekile Mnisi, Media and Communications Specialist, Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), at email@example.com or 0656130977
For more information contact:
Ms Odette Geldenhuys, a legal representative for the Haron Family, at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Unfinished Business of the TRC Programme, contact Katarzyna Zdunczyk at email@example.com
For more information on the “Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission” Programme that is run by the Foundation for Human Rights consult our website: https://unfinishedtrc.co.za
Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) is a non-profit human rights organisation that works to protect and promote human rights in South Africa. The FHR was established in 1996 to address the historical legacy of apartheid, and to promote and advance transformation and human rights based on the new constitution. The FHR implements four main human rights programmes: the Access to Justice Programme, the Gender Justice Programme, the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, and the Community Engagement Programme. Over the last two decades, the FHR has played a major role in promoting the rights of victims of apartheid crimes through supporting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), including justice and accountability for past crimes, reparations, and access to the TRC archives.
Webber Wentzel Pro-Bono Unit
Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Unit headed by Ms Odette Geldenhuys, provides free legal services to marginalised and vulnerable individuals and groups. Attorneys from the Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Team have acted as legal representatives in a number of post-TRC matters and have played an instrumental role in moving the cases forward. The post-TRC cases that are supported by Webber Wentzel include the matters of Imam Haron, Nokuthula Simelane, Adriaano Bambo and Caiphus Nyoka. In the past, Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Team acted as attorneys of record in the Ahmed Timol, COSAS 4 and Dr Neil Aggett matters. Mr Moray Hathorn continues to act as an attorney on record for the COSAS 4 and Aggett families in his current role at the Legal Resources Centre.