'Where is my baby's grave?'

11 February 2016 - 02:58 By Graeme Hosken

For Ernestina Simelane it's now or never. She hopes that a murder trial will reveal what happened to her daughter, who disappeared 33 years ago.On February 26 she will face the apartheid security branch policemen - Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Barnard Mong and Msebenzi Timothy "Vastrap" Radebe - who kidnapped and, the state believes, tortured and murdered her daughter, 23-year-old ANC courier Nokuthula Simelane.Mong, Pretorius and Coetzee applied to the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission for amnesty for her kidnapping and torture, but not for Simelane's murder. Radebe did not apply for amnesty."I am alone. Afraid of dying like my husband, crying out for answers that have never come," said Simelane.On Monday, the National Prosecuting Authority announced that Simelane's alleged killers would stand trial for murder. Radebe will also face kidnapping charges.Ernestina Simelane, paging through a worn, yellowed photograph album and looking at pictures of a smiling Nokuthula, said she last spoke to her daughter in June 1983.It was a cold June morning when Nokuthula Simelane telephoned her mother."She called me to say she was safe in Swaziland and would return soon to collect her graduation gown, dress and shoes."I told her not to, that there was trouble - that the police were looking for her. They wanted to catch her, to get information she had on ANC agents. Our house was a safe-house."Her mother told Nokuthula that the family would meet her in Mbabane in October for her graduation ceremony."I told her we would come early so that we could fit her dress. We arrived, but she never showed up. We waited and waited."We searched but couldn't find her. Her friends didn't know where she was. We went to the university, hoping she would be there. She was the only one who received her qualification in absentia."The graduation certificate hangs on a wall of the family home.Walking through Nokuthula's bedroom, virtually untouched since the day she left home, Simelane stares at the bed.She smiles, then shakes her head. "She loved this room."A photograph of Nokuthula stares down from a wall."I can't bear it any more. I'm in such pain," her mother said."After we came home I kept on searching. Five years after she disappeared I went to Botswana, tracking down her friends, but they hadn't seen her."In 1990 when anti-apartheid organisations were unbanned and exiles returned, Simelane's hopes soared."I tracked people down. Old family friends, anyone I could think of. People who had been in Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Russia. I hoped that she had skipped the country because of the dangers. That Nokuthula would return, that she would walk through the door, say 'Hello Mama' and give me a big hug, like she always did."For the Simelane family, until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings it was as if Nokuthula had vanished into thin air."I heard the TRC stories, of what they did to her, how they kidnapped her, turned her into a spy and returned her to Swaziland to infiltrate the ANC, but that's lies."Our family had money. Nokuthula gave money to people, who didn't have. She was not that desperate that she would spy on people for money."Simelane is determined to face Nokuthula's alleged killers in court."I am going to court to get answers. I want answers before they die, before they go to their graves with their horrible secrets.""I go to bed and dream ... of Nokuthula calling me for help."I want to see my baby's grave, to talk to her, to bring her home and bury her with the dignity she deserves."If only someone can say something, just tell me where she's buried. These men must tell me so I can die peacefully."..

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