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Address by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, MP, (Adv) on the occasion of the handover of the exhumed remains of Michael Lucas on 31 October 2017 in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape

Programme Director
Family of our departed hero
Executive Mayor; Mr Colan Sylvester
Deputy Mayor; Noluthando Mwati
Honourable Speaker; Julia Le Roux Krowitts
Representatives of various political formations present
Family of Michael Lucas
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

Let me start by expressing my most sincere appreciation for the opportunity given to me today, to join you on this very important occasion.

When he explained the ANC’s decision on armed struggle, the late OR Tambo, whose 100th birthday was posthumously celebrated on Friday 27 October, 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”.

We are alive to the fact that there should have been real and dignified burial of comrade Michael Lucas 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. This hero refused to grovel to a regime that trampled on the rights of the majority. Today we will enable the family to give comrade Lucas the proper and dignified burial that he deserves.

Comrade Michael is a heroic son of the South African revolutionary struggle, dedicated opponent of racism that is rearing its ugly head again, apartheid and colonial domination. He navigated the turbulent struggle in the country fighting for our freedom and did so with unflinching courage and defiance in the face of his own demise.

Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to give an account of how he 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 can finally close his difficult chapter.

Michael Lucas was sentenced to death by Judge Williamson and two assessors on 21 August 1987 in the Cape Town Supreme Court for the murder of a bus inspector, William Blaauw.   During the trial Michael pleaded guilty to the offences of attempted malicious damage to property and culpable homicide. 

Michael was hanged on the gallows at Pretoria Central prison on 25 March 1988 in Pretoria, only seven months after being sentenced to death. He was executed together with Benjamin Mlondolozi Gxothiwe, a UDF supporter from Port Elizabeth, and five other individuals. They were buried the same day in pauper graves in Mamelodi cemetery in Pretoria. At the time, the bodies of hanged prisoners remained the property of the state and the families were not permitted to attend the burial.

Michael was one of eighteen UDF supporters nationwide who were hanged in the period from 1986 to 1989.  A further three UDF supporters from Oudtshoorn were also sentenced to death, namely Dickson Madikane, Patrick Manginda and Desmond Majola, but their death sentences were commuted to terms of imprisonment.

On 31 May 2017, Michael’s remains were exhumed from a pauper grave in Mamelodi cemetery by the Missing Persons Task Team together with the TRC Unit in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. This formed part of government’s Gallows Exhumation Project aimed at recovering the remains of all the hanged political prisoners for proper reburial by their families.  It was my honour to publicly launch the Gallows Exhumation Project on 23 March 2016 at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre in Pretoria, to enable commencement with the exhumation of the mortal remains of 83 political prisoners on death row who were subsequently hanged.

Today is thus also an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate the historic step taken on 6 June 1995 by the Constitutional Court to abolish the death penalty. The court ruled that capital punishment, as provided for under the Criminal Procedure Act, was in conflict with the country's 1994 Interim Constitution. Until capital punishment was suspended in February 1990, South Africa had one of the highest rates of judicial executions in the world. Today, every citizen’s right to life is entrenched in the 1996 Constitution. We can find solace in the fact that never again will any South African face the same fate as Michael Lucas.

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. His dying must encourage us to 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.

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, Sizwe Kondile 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 61 have already been recovered and work of exhuming the outstanding 88 is underway, with the first public exhumation expected to be done during this month. These include comrades from PAC’s POQO, MK and UDF.

This handover ceremony marks the end of a long and painful process to positively identify these remains as belonging to our murdered brother. Of course, we would not have come this far if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of many dedicated people. I would therefore like to thank all the investigators, the Missing Persons Task Team, archaeologists and anthropologists who were involved in this process, for their commitment and determination in locating and identifying Michael’s remains. I also thank the TRC Unit in my department, which in their coordinating capacity rendered support throughout this process, and assisted in arranging this ceremony.

To the family and loved ones of Michael Lucas, we share in your sorrow, but hope that you find comfort and healing in receiving his remains here today. As you prepare to lay him to rest, know that our thoughts and prayers are with you.

As I conclude let me leave you with the words of the late Chief of Staff of Umkhonto weSizwe, comrade Chris Hani who 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”.

Long Live the spirit of Michael Lucas Long Live.

I thank you.