Mixed emotions as remains of seven PAC cadres exhumed
There were mixed emotions of joy and grief as families of seven members of the Pan African Congress’s (PAC) armed wing‚ Poqo‚ who were hanged in 1961 and 1964‚ witnessed the exhumation of their loved ones’ remains at Mamelodi West in Tshwane on Wednesday.
Richard Motsoahae‚ 23‚ Josiah Motsumi‚ 40‚ Thomas Molatlhegi‚ 31 and Petrus Ntshole 22‚ better known as the Munsieville Four‚ were hanged on June 16 1964 for the killing of security policeman Johannes Mokoena (aka Shorty or Sonnyboy).
Mokoena was shot dead in Munsieville‚ Krugersdorp‚ on the evening of March 18 1963.
Three residents of Rwantsana location in the district of Glen Grey in the Eastern Cape‚ Katyana Zoya‚34‚ Mpitizeli Zoya‚39 (brothers) and Mute Nyanya Yawa‚ age 46 were hanged on December 15 1961 for their role in the killing of Thompson Nqayana‚ a local headman and member of the local board.
The killing took place on January 3 1961 during the wider Pondoland revolt against government-imposed chiefs and headmen‚ largely associated with the African National Congress (ANC). Thirty-five residents were charged with murder‚ of whom twenty were convicted and sentenced to prison terms.
The Zoya brothers as well as Yawa‚ who were defended by Albie Sachs‚ were sentenced to death and hanged on December 15 1961.
Families said though their loved ones had died decades ago‚ it felt as if they had died just yesterday‚ saying the wounds were still fresh but hoped that the exhumations and proper burials would bring much needed closure.
Retired nurse Pulane Koboekae‚ younger sister of Motsoahae‚ said she had waited for this day all her life and that she was happy and sad at the same time.
She said they had been in mourning all these years.
“It is a happy but yet sad moment for us. It is a happy moment because we will be able to give my brother a dignified funeral. It is a sad day in that the process opens up the old wounds‚ but at least we will be able to get closure‚” she said.
The proceedings started with the families visiting the Gallows Museum in the Kgosi Mampuru correctional centre where the seven were hanged by the apartheid regime before they were buried in unmarked graves in Mamelodi West.
Madeleine Fullard‚ head of the NPA’s Missing Persons Task Team‚ said the Munsieville Four were buried in individual graves while the remains of the Eastern Cape three were piled on top of each other in a single grave.
These exhumations are part of the Gallows Exhumation Project launched by justice and correctional services minister Michael Masutha in 2016.
The project is aimed at recovering the remains of the political prisoners who were hanged prior to the suspension of the death penalty in 1990. The bodies of the hanged political prisoners remained the property of the state and were given pauper burials around Pretoria. Families were denied the opportunity to bury them.
PAC members in full party regalia chanted struggle songs at the poignant ceremony such as "Africa‚ Izwe Lethu (our land)" and "Bawabulele amaqhawe ethu (they have killed our heroes)"‚ with families watching in silence‚ teary eyed‚ as the brittle remains of their loved ones were carefully lifted from the graves.
The remains were exposed as the wooden coffins they were buried in had disintegrated over decades‚ with the strong plastic they were wrapped in before they were placed in the coffins the only remaining item of their burial.