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Tue Dec 06 23:53:49 CAT 2016

'Hit squad' on trial

Graeme Hosken | 2016-02-09 00:23:14.0

There's no body, and it is a case so cold a generation separates it from the present.

But the National Prosecuting Authority believes it will get justice for the family of Nokuthula Simelane, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed, allegedly by a Soweto apartheid hit squad 33 years ago.

Yesterday, the NPA announced it was to prosecute four men linked to the kidnapping, disappearance and murder of Simelane in October 1983.

Simelane, a student at the University of Swaziland and an ANC courier, disappeared from the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg, where she was meant to meet another operative.

She was detained for a week in the workers' quarters on top of Norwood police barracks, before being taken to a farm in Northam, Limpopo, where she was allegedly tortured before disappearing without trace.

Willem Frederick Schoon, Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee, Anton Pretorius and Frederick Barnard Mong - all formerly of the Soweto Security Branch - applied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty for her kidnapping, and torture but not her murder.

Schoon later withdrew his application and the others received amnesty for her abduction, but not her torture.

Though the NPA yesterday refused to divulge who would be prosecuted for Simelane's kidnapping and alleged murder, The Times is reliably informed that Msebenzi Timothy "Vastrap" Radebe, Mong, Coetzee and Pretorius will appear in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on February 26 on charges of murder.

Radebe, who is a policeman, will also face a charge of kidnapping. Schoon is not facing prosecution.

Although the crime occurred three decades ago, there is no statute of limitation on crimes such as murder and kidnapping.

The prosecution follows an application in the Pretoria High Court last year by Simelane's family to force the NPA to hold an inquest into her disappearance.

NPA head Shaun Abrahams said after the application that the case was held in "abeyance" to allow the NPA to review it and decide on a way forward. A decision was taken to "prosecute".

"After reviewing information brought to us by the police's Directorate of Priority Crimes, additional inquiries were made.

''Following this, we felt that there was a prosecutable case and that it was in the interest of justice to prosecute," Abrahams said.

"There are numerous precedents in our law to prove that you don't need a body to prosecute people for murder. We believe that she was murdered."

Abrahams declined to speculate about and where the murder occurred.

"The indictment will reflect the facts of the matter and what we intend to prove."

He said that although the indictment had yet to be served on the accused, they had been notified of the state's intention to prosecute.

Abrahams said such prosecutions brought closure to families who had lost loved ones to such alleged atrocities.

"People were given opportunities to make full disclosures during the TRC hearings. In cases where people did not make full disclosures, apply for amnesty or where there is reliable, relevant and admissible evidence, and where the interest of justice dictates, such perpetrators will be brought to book."

He said nothing prevented alleged perpetrators from approaching the NPA "in the event that they have information which could bring closure to such matters".

"There are various legal tools available to the NPA in dealing with these matters. We are not looking at vilifying anyone. We just want closure," he said.

He added that this prosecution would not be the last such.

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