Around South Africa, families are drawing together against what they feel is a betrayal by the ANC government. Their relatives are freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for democracy, but those believed responsible for their deaths are yet to be prosecuted.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has admitted that political interference led to almost 300 apartheid-era cases being ignored. Now, the families waiting for justice are asking the state capture inquiry to look into how the NPA was captured when it refused to investigate those apartheid crimes.
In mid-April, while the inquiry known as the Zondo Commission was hearing testimony on political interference in police investigations, author Lukhanyo Calata was preparing to submit another case before the commission led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Calata has made appeals to the NPA to investigate his father’s murder. Fort Calata was one of the Cradock Four, the celebrated martyrs of the Eastern Cape who died fighting the apartheid regime in 1985. Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Sicelo Mhlauli and Calata were brutally assassinated by the police in a hit organised by apartheid Cabinet ministers. No one has ever been held responsible for their deaths.
Now Lukhanyo Calata, on behalf of several other affected families, has asked the inquiry to investigate the political interference that resulted in almost 300 cases being neglected. These were cases the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had referred to the justice system to process. Zondo Commission spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela confirmed that the inquiry had received Calata’s submission.
“We want those people who politically interfered to be named and to possibly be brought to book,” Calata said.
NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke said the authority is “unaware of any such complaint made to the Zondo Commission”.
Capturing the NPA
It was during the case to bring prosecution against Joao Rodrigues, the accused murderer of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, that admissions about political intererence in the NPA finally went on record. Torie Pretorius, then the acting head of the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit in the NPA, said intense political pressure had forced the prosecuting authority to stop its investigations in 2004.
Chris Macadam, the current head of the unit, also admitted in court papers for the same case that the prosecuting authority had been influenced by political interests. Macadam has worked on TRC-related cases for more than 10 years in the NPA. It was the first time either man had admitted to political interference, despite years of speculation and documents submitted to court by former NPA head Vusi Pikoli that laid bare the political pressure to halt cases originating from the TRC.
“The first respondent [the NPA] does not deny that the executive branch of the state took what one can describe as political steps to manage the conduct of criminal investigations and possible prosecution of the perpetrators of the political murders such as that of Mr Timol,” Pretorius said in court papers.
The pressure came in the form of former justice minister Brigitte Mabandla. According to an internal NPA memorandum written by Pikoli in 2007, Mabandla and other government officials had played an integral role in making Pikoli feel “obstructed from carrying out my functions”. Pikoli claimed that Mabandla was worried ANC activists would be prosecuted for certain campaigns against the apartheid regime.
In the time it has taken for the NPA to reopen TRC cases such as the Timol inquest, which was heard in 2017, some of the former police officers who knew the truth about what had happened to slain activists have died.
In the Timol case, two police officers responsible for Timol’s torture, Johannes van Niekerk and Johannes Gloy, were dead by the time the inquest was reopened. But in 2004, when the NPA told Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, that they had closed the case because of a lack of evidence, both of these police officers were alive.
Moray Hathorn, the attorney representing the Timol and Calata families, said it is necessary for the state capture inquiry to investigate interference in the NPA so that faith in the justice system can be restored.
“The NPA has caved into this pressure, this harsh pressure. It led to Pikoli being suspended and ultimately removed from office … I think that needs to be dealt with and it can only be dealt with through a commission of this nature,” Hathorn said.
The families of slain freedom fighters searching for justice still distrust the NPA and are wary of being disappointed. But Makeke says the prosecuting authority is now free of any meddling.
“There is no interference with TRC cases at this stage. If approached by the Zondo Commission, the NPA will respond in the same manner as in the Rodrigues case,” Makeke said.
The state capture inquiry
The commission will now have to decide if it will allow Calata’s submission to form part of its investigations. The terms of reference of the commission direct that it is mandated to investigate allegations of “state capture, corruption and fraud in the public sector”. Calata’s submission will now have to go through the commission’s process before he’ll know if he will be granted a public hearing.
“The commission is looking into whether the submission falls under the terms of reference,” Stemela said.
The inquiry is on a tight deadline and under an intense workload. It has set itself a date in August 2019 to conclude public hearings, but it must conclude all of its work by March 2020.
Earlier this year, Cajee requested in writing that President Cyril Ramaphosa appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into the capture of the NPA in relation to TRC-cases, but the presidency has provided no response. Cajee said the presidency’s lack of response was partially why the families of slain freedom fighters had decided to make representations to the state capture inquiry.
“It will give some context and some meaning for the first time as to why the NPA has dismally failed over the years to investigate all these matters,” Cajee said.
Former TRC commissioners, including Yasmin Sooka and Dumisa Ntsebeza, are among those who supported the call for an inquiry. Calata said he felt compelled to step forward because he had promised former archbishop Desmond Tutu earlier this year that the work of the TRC would be completed.
“This was an opportunity for me to try to fulfil a promise that I had made to the Arch to make sure that I help comp some of the work that he and the rest of the TRC had started, by making sure that the NPA prosecutes those people who deserve to be prosecuted for the crimes that they committed under apartheid,” Calata said.
The families who wait
While Calata, Cajee and a team of lawyers are deeply engrossed in moving the TRC cases forward, there are families who are beginning to hope that justice may finally be served after decades of waiting.
The justice ministry has finally agreed to reopen the inquest into doctor and trade unionist Neil Aggett’s death and his sister, Jill Burger, is waiting to hear the truth about what happened to him. Aggett died in police custody in 1982. Burger is among those Calata is representing in his submission to the inquiry. She was shocked when the justice department informed her the inquest was being reopened after years of delays.
“Our attorneys and a team of people have been trying to get the inquest reopened for seven years, constantly petitioning the authorities and getting absolutely nowhere,” Burger said.
As Burger prepares to hear when the inquest will begin, Thembi Nkadimeng is still waiting to hear what happened to the remains of her sister, Umkhonto weSizwe fighter Nokuthula Simelane, and Lasch Mabelane is hoping to overturn what he believes to be a 42-year-old lie that his brother killed himself in police custody.
Fatima Haron-Masoet will wait in Cape Town for an inquest to be reopened into her father, Imam Abdullah Haron’s death. Police said he fell down some stairs. Together, they have backed Calata in his bid to appear before the state capture inquiry.
Calata is celebrating the news of the reopened inquest into Aggett’s death, believing it to be part of the wider movement to regain justice and dignity for the victims of apartheid whose loved ones died for freedom. The state capture inquiry, he said, will be another step forward.
“I require justice for my father and the Cradock Four and for everybody else,” Calata said.