Speech by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, MP (Adv), on the occasion of symbolic burial of remains of MK Soldiers
at Freedom Park, Tshwane on 1 July 2016
Program Director Reverend Maphatsoe
Families of our departed heroes, Kondile, Mavuso and Sambo
Deputy Minister Kebby Maphatsoe
Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane Honourable Sputla Ramokgopa
MECs and Councilliors present
Provincial leadership of the ANC and Alliance Partners
Members of MKMVA
Ladies and gentlemen
The late Chief of Staff of Umkhonto weSizwe, comrade Chris Hani once said “I've never wanted to spare myself because I feel there are people who are no longer around and died for this struggle. What right do I have to hold back, to rest, to preserve my health, to have time with my family, when there are other people who are no longer alive - when they sacrificed what is precious: namely life itself”.
Comrade Chris Hani was referring to the 10 cadres I handed over to their families a year ago, on 24 July 2015 at this historic hill where their names and many other gallant fighters are engraved. He was referring to Sizwe Kondile, Selby Mavuso and Johannes Sambo, our heroes whose spirits we are burying today.
We are alive to the fact that there should have been real burials but the ruthless and merciless apartheid regime had no respect for human life especially for our freedom fighters. To them, they were menace to their oppressive rule and white domination which cowardly eliminated our brothers and sisters. These heroes refused to grovel to a regime that trampled on the rights of the majority.
These are heroic sons of the South African revolutionary struggle, dedicated opponents of racism that is rearing its ugly head again, apartheid and colonial domination. They navigated foreign land after leaving their country in order to fight for our freedom and did so with unflinching courage and defiance in the face of their own demise.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to give an account of how these men perished. We acknowledge that this process is very traumatic to many, especially to you as families, but take solace in the fact that at least we now know how your loved ones lost their lives.
Gcinisizwe Kondile, known as Sizwe, was born on 6 October 1957. He was originally from Port Elizabeth where he became politically active. He was detained in 1980 while a student at the University of Fort Hare and experienced on-going police harassment. He left the country soon after, along with his best friend Adv Vusi Pikoli, who is among us today, and joined the ANC in exile. He was tasked with underground recruitment in the Eastern Cape and conducted various missions into the country while based in Lesotho. In July 1981 he disappeared while driving Chris Hani’s vehicle in Maseru. In 1989, Almond Nofomela, a prisoner and Vlakplaas operative sentenced to death, revealed the existence of Vlakplaas and its operations. This resulted in Dirk Coetzee, a former Vlakplaas commander leaving the country and making disclosures to the ANC regarding the operations and killings he was involved in. For the first time, information regarding Sizwe’s true fate was revealed.
It was revealed that Sizwe had been abducted from Maseru by the security police. He was taken to the Eastern Cape and held at various police stations including Jeffrey’s Bay and Humansdorp. While in detention he endured lengthy interrogation and torture. While security police initially believed they had convinced him to co-operate, they subsequently found a note Sizwe had written to the ANC which revealed he had remained loyal to the ANC.
Former police generals Nick van Rensburg and Gerrit Erasmus along with Colonel Hermanus du Plessis then arranged for his murder. They contacted Dirk Coetzee and made arrangements for Sizwe to be killed in the Komatipoort area. Sizwe was driven from the Eastern Cape handcuffed and with a balaclava on his head. He was taken to a private farm from where the SADF had previously launched the Matola Raid.
At the site he was drugged with ‘knock-out drops” obtained by Dirk Coetzee from police forensic laboratory head General Lothar Neethling. He was shot and his body burnt on a wood fire by a group of former Vlakplaas operatives Dirk Coetzee and some of his colleagues, as well as members of the Eastern Cape security police. The security police told the TRC that they had a braai and drank alcohol while the body burnt overnight.
Members of the Security Police applied for and were granted amnesty for Sizwe’s torture and death. It is quite disheartening that his remains cannot be recovered as a result the Kondile family was invited to participate in this journey to and from Komatipoort.
We are relieved that at least his true fate is known, the shadow of rumours have been dispelled, and that he is recognised as having paid the highest price for our democracy.
SELBY VUYANI MAVUSO
Selby Vuyani Mavuso, known as Gab, was born in Soweto on 14 May 1954. He went into exile shortly after the 1976 student uprising and joined MK, receiving his training in Angola. On 30 January 1981 he was one of three MK members abducted by the SADF during the Matola Raid in Maputo and taken back to South Africa. Due to protests raised at the United Nations, the South African government was forced to admit that they had the three in custody and to detain them officially. The three were held at the SADF Detention barracks in Voortrekkerhoogte.
After a few months Selby was moved to various locations including the Pretoria Central prison and Brits police station. Information obtained by the Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT) from a senior police official was that Selby refused to co-operate with them. Brigadier Willem Schoon, head of C section in the Security Police Headquarters, gave orders to Dirk Coetzee to eliminate him. He was officially released from detention on 11 October 1981 after nine months in custody. This was a fake release as he was in fact removed from Brits police station by Dirk Coetzee and driven to the Komatipoort area to be eliminated.
Peter Dlamini, a former MK member who was taken to Vlakplaas a year earlier, was also taken with Selby to the site to be killed. The two were drugged with ‘knock-out drops’ obtained from police General Lothar Neethling, shot and their bodies burnt on a fire on the banks of the Komati River. Their ashes were then pushed into the river. The MPTT in the NPA has determined that it is not possible to recover any of their remains.
JOHANNES SWEET SAMBO
Johannes Sweet Sambo was born in Steenbok village near Komatipoort on 15 May 1961. He came from a family with ANC affiliations and became an underground ANC operative who underwent military training in MK. In the early 1990s he was suspected of involvement in the smuggling of weapons into South Africa for the ANC.
In May 1991 members of the Lebombo Security Police arrested Mr Sambo at his home. On 4 July 1991 he died during a violent interrogation including ‘tubing’ and assault at the Squamans police base near Komatipoort. The Security Police members contacted Vlakplaas to request assistance in disposing of Mr Sambo’s body. Former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock tasked three of his unit members to assist. The three members drove to Middelburg where they received Mr Sambo’s body from the Komatipoort police. They took it to the Verdacht police explosives training base in Limpopo where it was repeatedly blown up with explosives until nothing remained.
In 2016, De Kock worked with the Missing Persons Task Team in tracing one of those responsible for blowing up the body. The perpetrators were taken to the police training site in Limpopo and identified the site. Regretfully, it was found that the site has been continuously used by police for explosives training over the last twenty years and no remains could be recovered.
The barbaric and inhumane manner of the killing of these comrades can never be over emphasized. Like the families of many other missing South Africans, their families lived with the pain of their disappearance for many years. Today we are able to fully acknowledge and register our appreciation of their role in the struggle for freedom.
The MPTT conducts investigations into the fate of many missing people and tries to recover their remains for the families wherever possible. They use the techniques of archaeology, forensic anthropology and genetics to recover and identify the remains.
In some cases, like these cadres, sadly, it is not possible to recover remains due to the manner in which the person was killed or disposed of. In these cases, families were taken to sites that have been identified as the place of death or disposal of the body. At these sites the families were able to conduct spiritual ceremonies to fetch the spirit of their loved ones.
Their terrible stories cast light on the practices of the security police in different periods. Firstly, it demonstrates the method used of faking the release of those they had officially detained in order to conceal their subsequent murder. The security police were able to wash their hands of their disappearance by claiming they had released them.
Secondly, it also shows the methods used to dispose of the bodies of those they had killed to ensure that there was no possibility of ever identifying the deceased. This was done either through burning the body to ashes, or blowing it up until nothing remained.
Comrades and Friends
Our department has had several handovers and reburials of our combatants in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, North West and the Free State. Some of the fallen cadres we have exhumed in these provinces include comrade Richard Bushy Lentsela, Meshack Komasasa Nyathi and Tamsanqa Poto.The TRC list had nearly 500 names reported missing during the conflicts of the past. The TRC unit and Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT) have exhumed 102 remains of the freedom fighters, 89 have been handed to their families and facilitated reburials while 12 are still awaiting DNA tests and forensic examinations. This leaves MPTT with huge number of remains of our struggle heroes and heroines whose graves are yet to be located, exhumed and given dignified reburials.
There were 140 political prisoners hanged between 1960 and 1990, of which 60 have already been recovered and work of exhuming the outstanding 89 is underway, with the first public exhumation expected to be done during this month. This was preceded by an official launch of the Gallows Exhumation Project that I presided over at the beginning of the year at Kgosi Mampuru II. These include comrades from PAC’s POQO, MK and UDF.
The Kgosi Mampuru II Management Centre is a stone’s throw from this venue, it was renamed by President Zuma after Kgosi Mampuru II who was hanged in a gruesome manner and reported in The New York Times of 19th December 1886 which recorded that:
“Mampuru was led naked to the jail yard in the presence of 200 whites. The first rope used broke when the trap was sprung and Mampuru fell into a pit below. He was dragged out, however, and another attempt to hang him was successful.” I am sharing his story to remind us of the inhumane and brutal manner in which apartheid regime cowardly eliminated our people. There is a lot of work to be done on these exhumations but as government, we shall soldier on fully alive to the fact that these cadres did not die in vain.
Ladies and Gentleman
This sombre occasion should remind us of the adversity that we faced during the struggle for political freedom and very importantly, gives us resilience as we seek to consolidate the socio-economic freedom of our people. We shall draw strength from their great works and sacrifices because we know what they stood for. Working together we must roll up our sleeves and ensure the achievement of all the socio-development goals of our country in the memory of our heroes. As we approach the local government elections, we must work harder to eradicate poverty; improve education, health, rural development, create decent jobs and develop our rural areas to improve the quality of life of all. Let me thank the MPTT, TRC unit, Freedom Park, and all those involved in this enormous work for your tireless efforts of helping these important families to at least find closure, although it’s a difficult thing to do.
As I conclude let me leave you with the words of the late OR Tambo when he explained the ANC’s decision on armed struggle, he said "What I condemn, with all the vehemence I can muster, is the fact that for three quarters of a century we have been victims of white minority rule, which has progressively become more violent against us up to the point where it assumes the forms we are witnessing. Some of us don’t like violence at all. I have an abhorrence of violence, I even take insects out of the bath. But we are forced into violence. I, for example, won’t hunt to kill because I do not like to kill. We are not fighting against people, we are fighting against a system”.
Long Live the spirit of Sizwe Kondile Long Live
Long Live the spirit of Selby Mavuso Long Live
Long Live the spirit of Johannes Sambo Long Live
I Thank you