Raising Private Mtolo: Chapter Two

23 February 2016 - 02:35 By Shaun Smillie

The Mtolos were a family in turmoil. A month after Sijlmans found the identification pass, they received news from a man that he had found their grandfather's grave in a far-off land. "We were happy and sad at the same time, when we heard the news," says Martin Mtolo, one of Mtolo's grandsons."Happy because we now knew where he was buried, sad because in Zulu culture he is meant to be home."Sijlmans contacted the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg on the day he found the document. "Then things started to roll," says Sijlmans. Researchers at the museum were able to track down the descendants.At first the family was confused. They believed Sijlmans was preventing the repatriation of the body. Sijlmans received angry e-mails from the family."I had to explain to them that I was only a historian looking for information," says Sijlmans. The Mtolos phoned the presidential hotline at Easter, asking for help to bring their patriarch home. Their request was forwarded to the Department of Military Veterans. But the Mtolos were given bad news. Because Mtolo was buried in a Commonwealth War Grave Commission grave, exhumation was out of the question.The commission's principles, set down after World War 1, state that remains cannot be repatriated.The family considered going overseas to perform the rituals to bring home Mtolo's spirit.This, too, proved to be difficult. The Department of Military Veterans' ruling is that they don't fund such trips - it's too expensive.Two years have passed and three of Mtolo's grandchildren reach a clearing in a eucalyptus plantation that overlooks the Nsingozi River. They stand staring at a place they never knew.Across a valley just below the crown of a hill is where their grandfather's kraal once stood.Getting to their destination requires following a zigzag of logging roads through a forest plantation near Richmond. They are guided by Mbizweni, the only grandson who remembers the route.What little they know is that their grandmother Thoko left the kraal shortly after Mtolo's death."After he died, everything became a mess, his wife moved back to her family's kraal," says Martin.Later, they explain, the family was forced to move from the homestead Mtolo once headed.If the Mtolos get their wish and their grandfather's remains are brought back, the plan is that he be buried in this place, next to his brother.But they know that this is increasingly unlikely."If we don't get the remains back, [the government] must take us to the Netherlands," says Martin.They will go to the grave that sits next to the wall of the Noordwijk cemetery. Then they will speak to him and explain that his body must stay in that foreign land but they will invite his spirit to travel back with them to the hills and steep valleys it will recognise."I will not give up until I die," Martin says...

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