Webber Wentzel pro bono team helps advance unresolved Apartheid deaths

On 2 September 2020, Webber Wentzel's pro bono team filed an application on behalf of two relatives to exhume the bodies of the three students who were murdered by the Security Branch of the South African Police 38 years ago. The application seeks to compel an exhumation by Mogale City Local Municipality and subsequent post-mortem examination of the bodies by the Roodepoort Forensic Pathology Services.

“This application will help to bring long-awaited closure to the families of the three murdered students," says Samantha Robb, an associate at Webber Wentzel.

In what is called the “COSAS 4" case, Eustice Madikela, Ntshingo Mataboge and Fanyana Nhlapo were murdered by members of the Security Branch in a planned explosion in a pumphouse in Krugersdorp to which they were lured by an Askari on 15 February 1982. A fourth student, Zandisile Musi, was seriously injured.

The families were told by the police that the COSAS 4 had blown themselves up. Although the Inquest Act of 1959 requires a post-mortem examination in all deaths arising from unnatural causes - they were buried without a post-mortem, even though their deaths were from unnatural causes.

The murders were covered up by the Security Branch and remained concealed until the perpetrators applied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for amnesty, which was refused. Although the case was referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 1999, there has been no action for 21 years.

Webber Wentzel, acting on behalf of Maide Selebi (sister of Eustice Madikele) and Patience Nhlapo (cousin of Fanyana Nhlapo), in conjunction with the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), have been liaising with the NPA since October last year. Despite three meetings and multiple communications with the NPA and the South African Police Services, there has been no progress. To avoid further delay, the families initiated the first necessary legal step to lay the basis for a prosecution of the known perpetrators.

The Webber Wentzel pro bono team continues to work on several TRC-related cases. It has also applied successfully to re-open the inquests into the deaths of Dr Neil Aggett and Ahmed Timol and has helped to persuade the NPA to prosecute the alleged perpetrators of the murder of Nokuthula Simelane. “It is important for South Africa that those who perpetrated atrocities under Apartheid and did not receive amnesty at the TRC should be brought to justice" says Samantha Robb, an associate at Webber Wentzel.​