Time to answer cries from the grave

12/03/2016 Winnie Hearing - TRC Picture: Debbie YAZBEK

The NPA has finally admitted this week that it was blocked for all these years from investigating or prosecuting the cases referred to it by the TRC. It was blocked by the political principals for reasons we may never know.

I am haunted by voices from the grave. The voices of our bravest freedom fighters who were brutally tortured and murdered in detention at the hands of the security branch. Their cries for justice seem to be getting louder and louder, so loud that sometimes I don’t know how we sleep at night. It is my fervent hope that Shamila Batohi will be the voice of conscience that answers their cries and allows them to finally rest in peace.

I have heard that some of these monsters still grace the cafes of Pretoria, imagining it is still a bastion of white supremacy where they can hide in comfort, which of course it isn’t. Friends in the know tell me they have spotted many of these former Security Branch torturers at the local bars in George, on the beach in De Kelders near Hermanus, and on the Durban north coast. 

These men have no remorse for what they did, and they never went to the TRC to ask for amnesty for their crimes. According to the historic compromise of our transition, if the likes of these men failed to make a full disclosure of their crimes they would be prosecuted. Of the thousands who never came forward to tell the truth, only the cases of 300 were referred by the TRC to the NPA for further investigation and prosecution, which  in itself was a travesty of justice.

The final TRC report of 2003 said it was imperative to have a bold prosecution policy to avoid impunity for these politically-motivated murders, as impunity would mean contravening South Africa’s obligations under international law. The 300 cases referred were all cases of gross human rights abuses, torture, and murder where amnesty was either denied or not applied for.

Twenty-five years into a free and democratic South Africa one would have expected that those 300 cases would have been fully investigated and prosecuted, and some of the worst of humanity would have been hauled off our beaches and out of our pubs and finally put behind bars, where they belong. 

What I find even more inexplicable is that while we have anxiously waited for justice to take its course, our own NPA, SAPS and those at the highest levels of our democratic state have blocked those cases from being prosecuted. How can that have happened? How could all those brave souls have been so betrayed after having made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom that we now all enjoy?

We didn’t want to believe Vusi Pikoli when he claimed there was political interference in his work as the National Director of Public Prosecutions, and that his superiors made it impossible for him to proceed on the TRC cases. But then his secret memo to former Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandala was made public last month in court papers where he explicitly states that his superiors and political principals had obstructed him from taking these cases forward. 

This week the Prosecutor Jacobus Pretorius, who has been working on the TRC files at the NPA all these years, and was put in charge of all the TRC cases of deaths in detention, finally came out and dropped a bombshell. Pretorius admitted on behalf of the NPA in court papers in the Rodrigues case that the NPA was subjected to political interference and pressure not to pursue the TRC cases. There is also an affidavit of the former Deputy Director of the PCLU Raymond Macadam that in 2003 the former Scorpions Director placed a moratorium on investigating the TRC cases.

From that moment on, the efforts of Ahmed Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee to find out the truth about his Uncle’s murder were frustrated, as were the attempts to seek truth and justice by Nokuthula Simelane’s sister, the son of Fort Calata, the sister of Neil Aggett and relatives of many other murdered freedom fighters. In the still of the night the voices of Nicodemus Kgoathe, Solomon Modipane, James Lenkow, Caleb Mayekiso, Michael Shivute and Jacob Monakgotla have been getting louder from graves across this country.

This week the TRC Commissioners wrote a letter to President Ramaphosa asking that he apologise to the victims and their families for the state’s failure to fulfill its obligation to pursue the TRC cases. They also asked that he establish a Commission of Inquiry to look into why these prosecutions were blocked. If we are a nation trying to unravel the truth of state capture, we need to understand how the NPA was captured and ensure these cases are pursued with immediacy.

Shannon Ebrahim is the foreign editor for Voices360.