Father loses race against time for justice
But new hope springs from drive to examine disputed findings in 300 apartheid deaths
On February 15 1977, Matthews "Mojo" Mabelane fell from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg. Security police claimed he had tumbled from a ledge in an attempt to escape.
His father, Philip Mabelane, always hoped that the mystery around his son's death would be explained, and that the people responsible for what he believed was his son's murder would be brought to justice.
He did not live to see the day. Philip died on Thursday at the age of 96, just as human rights lawyers and former commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begin driving the reopening of more than 300 inquests that ruled out the involvement of apartheid police officers in deaths in custody. Matthews's case is among them.
Decades of deceit and betrayal by the government of murdered anti-apartheid activists has allowed their killers to walk free, and left hundreds of families without answers as to who is accountable.Philip's nephew Sammy Rapulane said the family were devastated.
"Just two weeks ago I visited my uncle. You could see in his eyes how sad he was and how heavily his son's death was weighing on him.
"He made me promise to continue our quest to get to the truth about what happened to his son."
Now, more than ever, the family are determined to find out how Matthews died.
For Yasmin Sooka, a former TRC commissioner now with the Foundation for Human Rights, the latest process is the last opportunity for many families to learn the truth behind their loved ones' disappearances, torture and deaths.
But time is against the families.
Said 74-year-old Ben Kgoathe, whose father, Nicodemus, died in the cells of Silverton police station in Pretoria in 1969: "For 49 years our family have searched for answers, but my mother, sister and brother died without ever knowing.
"I am determined to learn who the men were who murdered our father before I die."
Kgoathe said his family went to the TRC for answers, but got none.
"The only thing we got was a R30,000 payout. We didn't want that. We wanted answers so we could have closure."
Sarah Haffejee also wants to know the truth about her brother Hoosen Haffejee's alleged suicide 41 years ago at Brighton Beach police station in Durban.
"They claimed he hung himself from the window bars. But those window bars were too high for him to reach. His body was covered with cuts, open wounds, bruises and burn marks behind his knees and ankles.
"His neck was broken, the bridge in his mouth shattered.
"This is about getting justice for Hoosen. My mother and father died without ever finding answers.
"We are told that there are witnesses, that prosecutors and investigators in our case know the killers' identities but are blocked from interviewing them. Why?"Sooka said courageous prosecutors and detectives should have stood up to fight for justice after recommendations for investigations and prosecutions were made during the TRC hearings in the 1990s.
"We need to create the political will to make it [investigations and prosecutions] happen."
The Foundation for Human Rights, along with the Legal Resources Centre, law firm Webber Wentzel, former investigators from the International Criminal Court and families whose relatives were killed by apartheid police, is demanding the reopening of inquests.
This follows the successful overturning last year of the findings of the original inquest into the 1971 death of SACP member Ahmed Timol, from suicide to murder. Apartheid police had claimed Timol jumped from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square.
The foundation has a list of more than 300 such cases, which it said was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cover-ups of apartheid murders. In these cases the TRC either did not grant amnesty to those behind the murders or no one applied for it.
Investigators have shortlisted 22 cases for immediate action, and these have been handed over to the NPA and the Hawks, with eight currently under investigation.
Sooka said she could only hope that the recent change in political leadership would result in "some urgency ".
But she is doubtful.
"Ten years ago, we had to go to court to stop the national director of public prosecutions from proceeding with a prosecution policy that provided a backdoor amnesty to perpetrators.
"We also had to go to the Constitutional Court to stop a political pardon process that again bent over backwards for perpetrators, but excluded victims. It has been one uphill battle after another."
NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said a decision had been taken to assign additional manpower to the priority crimes litigation unit to ensure that investigations in respect of the TRC matters that are conducted by the Hawks are fast-tracked.
NAMES OF APARTHEID'S SERVANTS AND ITS BITTEREST FOES RESOUND IN CAMPAIGN
Those who the Foundation for Human Rights believe need to be held accountable for giving orders for and helping to cover up apartheid murders include:
• Former police minister Adriaan Vlok
• Former security police chief General Krappies Engelbrecht
• Former security police general Johan le Roux
• Former security policeman Lieutenant-General Sebastiaan "Basie" Smit
• Former police commissioner General Johan van der MerweThe former kidnapping, torture and murder inquests of anti-apartheid activists that the Foundation for Human Rights wants reopened include those of:
• The Pebco Three: Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela, and Qaqawuli Godolozi
• The Cradock Four: Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli
• Richard and Irene Motasi
• Jameson Ngoloyi Mngomezulu
• Neil Aggett
• Hoosen Haffejee
• Babla Saloojee
• Matthews Mabelane
• Nicodemus Kgoathe
• Solomon Modipane
• Jacob Monnakgotla
• Nokuthula Simelane..