Exhumations must foster unity

Exhumations must foster unity

The exhumation of the remains of 13 political prisoners at the Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria must contribute to healing in South Africa, fostering unity and cohesion, Justice Minister Michael Masutha said on Wednesday.

Maryke Vermaak

"Let's use this opportunity to unite our people within and across political organisations of different persuasions, our various social formations, religious and otherwise - and pull together as a people towards a common cause of achieving the ultimate goal of liberation, social and economic justice for all our people," said Masutha.

The minister was presiding over an edition of the gallows exhumation project, which on Tuesday culminated in the digging up of the remains of the 13 Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) activists, from Mputhi village in Eastern Cape.

The PAC acivists sentenced to death, and hanged at the Pretoria Central Prison gallows, following the Mbashe River attack which took place in February 1963.

Of the 13 activists, five were members of the Vulindlela family - Mbhekapantsi, Sihelegu, Sandunge, Bhonase and Malize.

They were hanged on the same day, July 3 1963, alongside with Bennet Mpetu, Right Mangqikana, Bawokazi Mangqikana, Nqaba Memani, Siwana Mlahleki, Mili Poli, Mtalatala Xhego and Dumisa Galeni.

The slain activists, who were members of Poqo, the military wing of the PAC, were sentenced to death for being part a large group of about 60 people who launched an attack on a road construction camp beside the Mbashe River on the road between Mthatha and Engcobo.

Five occupants of two caravans at the camp were attacked and killed. One Derek Thompson was burnt to death inside his caravan, while Norman Grobbelaar, his wife Elizabeth and two teenage daughters Dawn and Edna were hacked to death.

On Wednesday, Mveli Tyhobo, son of Bhonase Vulindlela, said he felt relieved knowing that his father's remains would soon be coming home for a proper traditional burial.

"When we start negotiating with government to have their remains returned to us, there was no indication that this day would arrive. Today I feel alright. Today we are not here [at the cemetery] to mourn, we are actually proud of what has happened," said Mveli.

The families who have travelled to Pretoria from Eastern Cape, will be returning to their homes while government concludes processes and will send the remains for the burials.

While the gallows at Pretoria Central Prison only accommodated seven condemned individuals at a time, the group of activists which included Mveli's father were hanged in two groups.

The first group was hanged at 6am and the second set at 6:45am. The youngest of the activists was Mbhekaphantsi Vulindlela, who was only 18.

One of the activist sentenced to death for the Mbashe River attack, Thembeni Swelindawo, died of natural causes while on death row and was buried as a pauper at Mamelodi cemetery. His remains will also be exhumed.

The mass exhumation project entails the digging-up of the remains of 83 political prisoners who were hanged at the now Kgosi Mampuru Prison gallows and buried in unmarked graves.

A total of 130 political prisoners were hanged at the gallows between 1960 and 1990. Of these, the remains of 47 political prisoners have already been exhumed.

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