How these UDF cadres ended up on death row - Michael Masutha

At handing over of exhumed remains justice minister says he hopes racist tendencies deterred by coffin case

Address by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, MP, (Adv) on the occasion of the handing over of exhumed remains of 12 UDF political activists in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

Program Director
Families of our departed patriots
Premier of the Eastern Cape; Mr Phumulo Masualle
Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Metro; Mr Anthol Trollip
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans; Mr Kebby Maphatsoe
Eastern Cape MEC for Sports Arts and Recreation; Miss Pemmy Majodina
Provincial leadership of the ANC and alliance partners
Members of MKMVA
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

At 6h00, on 6th April 1979, a young heroic son of our revolutionary struggle from Mamelodi was hanged by the racist minority regime in Pretoria. Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu walked to the gallows with unflinching courage and defiance in the face of his own demise. As the hangman was about to end his life, he said “Tell my people I love them and that they must continue the struggle, my blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom”. As if that was not enough, the apartheid regime was so ruthless that they had no shame in putting a rope around the neck of an 18 years old POQO cadre from Bhaziya in Mthatha, Bhekaphantsi Vulindlela thereby mercilessly ending his life.

This sombre occasion should remind us of the words of the late President Mandela when he summarised the death penalty and said “The death sentence is a barbaric act … It is a reflection of the animal instinct still in human beings”.

We are here today, at the friendly province of the Eastern Cape, the birthplace of many late and living struggle icons, OR Tambo, whose 100th birthday we celebrated on 27 October, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Steve Biko, Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile and the former President Thabo Mbeki, to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Afrika, to establish contact beyond the grave, with the great African heroes and assure these sons of the soil that their struggle was not in vain. We have been here in Port Elizabeth on several occasions to hand over mortal remains of PEBCO 3 and Thamsanqa Poto, amongst others.

To you families of our departed comrades, after travelling hundreds of kilometres from this province to Gauteng to witness the exhumation of their remains, you must be relieved that at last you can now close the chapter in this dignified and solemn occasion for your loved ones.

Silapha empumakoloni namhlanje uzonikezela lamathambo oonyana besizwe, sisithi kuni, nani nibalulekile kurhulumente we anc ngenxa yegalelo lalamaqhawe kwinkululeko yelilizwe.

Today’s event was preceded by the launch of the Gallows Exhumation Project, on 23 March 2016 at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional centre in Gauteng. This was all in recognition of the sacrifice of political prisoners who were judicially executed between 1960 and 1990. This was also in appreciation of some of the earlier political resistance initiatives against the colonial rule and domination imposed on Africans here and elsewhere on the continent and around the world .On that day we recounted the remarkable story of the brutal hanging of Kgosi Mampuru II which was reported as far as the United States.

The New York Times of 19th December 1886 recorded that: “Mampuru was led naked to the jail yard in the presence of 200 whites. The first rope 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.”

These cadres including Kgosi Mampuru II were eliminated by the racist regime because they were black and it is quite disheartening that the racism they fought against is still rearing its ugly head as clearly evident in the recent coffin assault case. However we must commend the judiciary, NPA and law enforcement for aggressively dealing with the case and hope that any racist tendencies will be deterred. 

Program Director

Allow me to also give an account of how these cadres ended up on death row.

All of these twelve UDF comrades were hanged for events or incidents that took place during the period of intense political turmoil in the Eastern Cape in 1985 and 1986. They were all buried as paupers in unmarked graves in Mamelodi cemetery in Tshwane within hours of being hanged. At the time the bodies of hanged prisoners remained the property of the state and families were not permitted to attend the burial. It means you were a prisoner of the state even in death.

Today we are able to fully acknowledge and register our appreciation of their role in the struggle for freedom. The 1980s was a period of detention, death, imprisonment, banning of organizations and a state of emergency. Despite those conditions, they decided that their mission was the freedom of their country and its people from apartheid oppression.

Generations to come will know the outstanding heroism and bravery they displayed. They will know how their families were harassed and persecuted by the apartheid state by virtue of being related to them as fighters of freedom and justice.

Lungile Rewu, age 19, and Sipho Mahala, age 21, were among eight persons charged with the murder of a sixteen year old teenager on 2 November 1985 in Veeplaas in Port Elizabeth during violent clashes between UDF and AZAPO supporters. The teenager was suspected of being part of an AZAPO group sent to attack UDF supporters. One of the accused absconded and four were discharged at the end of the trial. Another was found guilty of common assault. Lungile Rewu and Sipho Mahala were convicted of murder without extenuating circumstances and sentenced to death on 20 May 1987. They were hanged ten months later on 29 March 1988.

Thobile Lloyd, age 27, and Siphiwo Lande, age 22, were among ten individuals charged with murder. During the trial, eight of the accused escaped of whom two were recaptured. The four remaining accused faced charges regarding the killing of two men on 18 April 1985 and a policeman on 28 April 1985 in KwaZakhele in Port Elizabeth. In the first incident, a large group of UDF supporters decided at a people’s court to execute certain individuals suspected of certain murders in the community. In the second incident, a policeman was abducted from his home and also necklaced to death with car tyres. Thobile Lloyd was convicted of the first two murders and Siphiwo Lande of all three. They were sentenced to death on 7 July 1987 and both were hanged nine months later on 14 April 1988.

Kholisile Dyakala, age 33, and Zwelidumile Mjekula, age 36, were charged along with two other individuals with the murder of a security guard at Coega in Port Elizabeth on 9 June 1986 and robbery with aggravating circumstances. The state alleged that the four men set out to rob the security guard of his fire arm and shot him dead during the robbery. One of the accused was killed in an unrest related incident prior to the trial and the fourth accused was acquitted. Kholisile Dyakala and Zwelidumile Mjekula were sentenced to death on 14 December 1987 although Mjekula was only convicted on the basis of dolus eventualis. The two were hanged eleven months later on 24 November 1988.

Benjamin Mlondolozi Gxothiwe, age 27, and a member of the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress (PEYCO), was charged with the fatal shooting of a policeman on 25 December 1985 in Swartkops, Port Elizabeth. He was one of six individuals charged for the murder as well as the theft of a firearm and a motor vehicle. Although the court accepted that there was no evidence of premeditation to the killing of the policeman, Benjamin was sentenced to death in September 1987 and was hanged six months later on 25 March 1988.

Tsepo Letsoara, age 25, was one of four individuals charged with the murder of a young woman on 7 October 1985 in Motherwell in Port Elizabeth. The young woman was accused of being a police informer after she was detained under the State of Emergency with a large group of youth but was released a day later while the others were detained for over a month. Tsepo Letsoara was convicted and sentenced to death in September 1987 while his co-accused were discharged. He was refused leave to appeal his conviction and sentence and was hanged six months later on 18 March 1988.

Ndumiso Silo Siphenuka, age 25, and Makhezwene Menze, age 44, were among eight persons charged with the murder of an elderly farmer and his wife on 17 June 1985 at Kirkwood, Eastern Cape. The court charged that members of the Addo Youth Congress met on 16 June 1985 and decided to launch an attack on the farm the following day. All eight accused were convicted of murder on the basis of common purpose, but extenuating circumstances were found in the case of four due to their young ages, and prison sentences were imposed on them. The remaining four were sentenced to death. Two were later commuted to prison terms. Ndumiso Siphenuka and Makhezwene Menze were hanged on 20 April 1989.

Raymond Welile Gwebushe, age 29, from Jansenville in the Eastern Cape, was charged with the murder of a suspected police informant. On 6 April 1985, a meeting of the Jansenville Youth Congress was held attended by several hundred youth at which a decision was taken to execute the alleged informant. Raymond was convicted of murder without extenuating circumstances and was sentenced to death on 6 June 1986. The State President declined to grant mercy and he was hanged on 19 August 1987.

Mangena Jeffrey Boesman, age 37, was one of eight persons charged with the murder of a school teacher on 19 October 1985 in the town of Sterkstroom, Eastern Cape. A large group attacked the teacher’s home as she was defying the longstanding school boycott and was believed to be reporting incidents to the police. Mangena Boesman and two fellow accused were sentenced to death on 21 October 1988 for her murder. His two fellow condemned received a reprieve seven days before their execution. Mangena Boesman was hanged on 29 September 1989. He was the last political prisoner to be executed.

The Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT) and the TRC unit have exhumed 105 remains of the freedom fighters, 24 identified and ready to be handed to their families while 10 are awaiting DNA and forensic examinations. On the Gallows Exhumation Project, out of 83 of those hanged, 37 remains of individuals belonging to both UDF and PAC have been exhumed leaving us with 46.

During apartheid rule it was common for black people convicted of murdering whites to be sentenced to death, but very rare for whites who murdered blacks to be given the death sentence. A study of death sentences in one year found that 47% of blacks convicted of murdering whites were given the death sentence as opposed to no death sentences at all for whites convicted of murdering blacks. Between 1960 and 1990, at least 140 individuals were hanged for politically motivated offences.

Our country has since changed this reality and established a society that values human rights. As one of the leading nations in the promotion of human rights, South Africa has taken a progressive stance to end the death penalty. Our democratic constitution which has guided us for the past 20 years declares the right to life as a fundamental human right. The Constitution also implores us to uphold the dignity of all living human beings. We hope that the recovery of these remains will go some way towards relieving the decades of pain experienced by the families of those hanged, and at last allow them to be buried with the dignity they deserve.

I must take this opportunity and express our gratitude to the provincial government led by Premier Masualle and MEC Majodina for its support to this project, national Department of Defence and Military Veterans,Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, , Ekurhuleni Metro, Missing Persons Task Team and our TRC unit under the leadership of Madeleine Fullard and Thapelo Mokushane of the TRC Unit team for all the hard work that yielded these results.

As we proceed to take these cadres to be with their forebears, let us then be reminded to constantly be on guard, to defend this democracy, for it did not come cheap.

Masibakhaphe Ngesidima Ogatyeni, Otshangisa, Ombona, Omokoena, Ompondo, Osduli, Omzangwa, Omsiya, Omgcina, Omadiba, Odlomo, Nocirha.


I thank you.

Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, 6 November 2017