So my truth lies in the essence of my being

It is as infinite as the steps of my ancestry

My story did not begin at the arrival of false civilianization

It is as ancient as the oceans yet as new as the sun rises every morning

It is not the words of those who wish to define me

It is often distorted even in the history books


I am more than my dancing feet

I am more than poetic rhymes

My story is not hidden in the stereotypical definitions

To understand my truth is to understand what makes me beat

It is to understand what makes me dance

It is to understand what makes me laugh

It is to allow me to occupy this

Space with you and know that we are

Of the same earth, we plant our feet in the same soil

We breathe the same air

We quench our thirst with the same water

And my truth is as infinite as the steps

Of my ancestry.


“Each victim has the right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person.” Article 24 of the Convention makes it clear that as human beings, we have a right to the truth.

Nokuthula Simelane’s family, pictured in the photos above, was denied that right. Nokuthula was kidnapped, illegally detained, and tortured continuously for five weeks in a farm outbuilding at Northam, North West Province. It is assumed that Nokhuthula was murdered. The policemen who kidnapped her sought and received amnesty for her kidnapping and torture, but refused to reveal the location of her body. They did not apply for amnesty for her ‘presumed’ murder. This left the opportunity for her torturers to be prosecuted for her murder.

In 2016, the National Prosecuting Authority re-opened the case for prosecution on grounds of new evidence. However, the case was postponed while the defendants demanded that the state pay their legal costs, because their actions were undertaken on the instructions of the state. It was a provision of the TRC for the State to cover all legal costs of amnesty applicants. The defendant’s tried to extend this mechanism of the TRC to their current trial. The State rejected the case in the High Court. The defendant’s had already been provided the opportunity to tell the truth at their TRC Amnesty Hearing and failed to do so. Because they failed to come clean in the Amnesty Hearings, they cannot now invoke the special conditions that would have been provided to them.

Now, in July 2017 the case has still not resumed. Nokuthula’s family is still in the dark. They do not know what happened to Nokhutula, or where her body is. Nokuthula remains one of the disappeared.

In 2005, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights updated their principles to require States “to ensure the preservation of, and access to, archives concerning violations of human rights and humanitarian law.” Society has a right to know what happened to the friends, family, and community members who were lost in the struggle. If we do not know the truth, how can we learn from the past? How can we move forward? The right to the truth must be honoured and upheld.

Excerpt of poem “Truth” by Primrose Mrwebi
Photographs by Buyaphi Mdlele

One thought on “The Right to the Truth

  1. Lest we forget has many connotations. Nokuthula Simelane’s abduction and subsequent disappearance is one such case. There are many others. We cannot bury the past when we cannot bury our dead. The systematic cruelty of those years need to be highlighted. It’s impossible to say we should forgive; that we should move on in situations like this. The need for closure is almost hackneyed, but it belittles people’s losses of this nature. Not knowing the circumstances of friend or family deaths is shocking; not having body remains to inter can only add to the grief. The family have a life sentence; the perpetrators may eventually do time, but their sentence will not be for life. To the “disappeared” of Ireland, Mexico and Argentina, must be added the Nokuthula Simelanes of the violent years of a predemocratic South Africa.


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