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Fri Sep 04 07:48:22 SAST 2015

Honour for missing 12

PHILANI NOMBEMBE | 14 February, 2013 00:20
Builders are constructing a memorial at Stikland Cemetery near Cape Town. The Robben Island Museum is erecting a memorial at the cemetery to honour 12 political prisoners who died in custody on the island Picture: SHELLEY CHRISTIANS

The Robben Island Museum has started work on a memorial site near Cape Town to honour 12 political prisoners whose remains are yet to be found.

The men died in custody and it is believed they were buried at the Stikland Cemetery, in Bellville, more than 40 years ago along with city paupers.

A two-year excavation by the National Prosecution Authority's missing persons task team was called off in February 2011 when they could not be located.

Medeleine Fullard, the head of the task team, said excavating the site had been difficult because there was no map to guide them, and people who worked at the cemetery during the 1960s had died.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the team be set up to trace people who disappeared in political circumstances between 1960 and 1994. It has conducted 83 exhumations around the country to date.

"Unfortunately, over two years after a series of excavations, we could not match what we found in the ground with anything in the book," Fullard said.

"We didn't recommend any further excavation because every time we excavate we disturb and change the landscape. In addition, the families are becoming very elderly. They have been waiting for years and we decided memorialisation was an important part.

"In as much as they want to bury their loved ones, it is important to recognise those who paid a very heavy price fighting for freedom and democracy."

Thembela Mvalwana said the family had hoped to bury his grandfather, Zincwasile Mvalwana, one of the political prisoners.

"I was hoping we were going to get the bones. I was here when the digging was taking place."

However, he understood the circumstances: "I don't blame anyone."

A traditional ceremony will be held on the island and at the cemetery on March 21.


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