Closure for families of hanged UDF 8, as remains are exhumed
Johannesburg – Eight families, who for years never knew where their loved ones were buried after they were hanged in the gallows, finally got closure on Wednesday when their remains were exhumed.
National Prosecuting Authority's Missing Persons Task team [MPTT] head, Madeleine Fullard, said it was implementing one of the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that government carry on with the tracing of people who disappeared under political circumstances.
The team of ten, comprising forensic anthropologists and investigators, are tasked with locating the remains and returning them to families.
The team continues to investigate cases from the TRC, and families that believe their members disappeared during apartheid still come forward.
"We do investigations and we try and identify the sites through forensic excavations, then we do forensic examination of the remains and then we try and identify the remains."
One of the sub-projects the team was working on was the Gallows Exhumation Project, launched in 2016.
"There were over 130 political prisoners who were sentenced to death and hanged by the state, between 1986 and 1990, at the gallows at what was then called the Pretoria Central Prison."
She said the death sentence was then suspended in 1990.
Buried as paupers
"What happened is that when people were hanged the state kept their bodies. Their bodies remained the property of the state. Even though the families were told about the hanging, the whereabouts of the bodies were not revealed.""The families did not participate in the burial process because the state buried the bodies as paupers in cemeteries around Tshwane. The families never knew where the bodies were."
The bodies were missing and the Gallows Exhumation Project is about tracing the missing remains.
"We started working on the project and we have come to the exhumation process. Yesterday, we did the first exhumation of the United Democratic Front members.
"They were people who were charged and convicted during the popular uprising in the 1980's, people charged with killing policemen and necklacing. These were amaqabane [political activists]."
Fullard said her team performed eight exhumations at the Mamelodi Cemetery in Mamelodi West, Pretoria on Wednesday.
"We did eight and we will do another 10 in the next few weeks or next month or so.”
While her team was digging at the cemetery, the families were taken to the gallows at Kgosi Mampuru II Prison - where they went to see where their loved ones were hanged.
"They viewed the remains and then we exhumed them. Now we are doing the forensic examination. Possibly next month, the minister will hand over the remains to the families,” she said.
Fullard said at least 18 UDF activists and supporters were hanged for politically motivated offences. These are some of the remains exhumed:
Michael Lucas, 21, from Outdtshoorn, hanged March 25, 1988. He was hanged for the murder of bus inspector William Blaauw during protests in Oudtshoorn on April 15, 1986.
Benjamin Mlondolozi Gxothiwe, 27, a member of the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress (Peyco) hanged March 25, 1988 after being found guilty of killing a policeman in December 1985.
Tsepo Letsoara, 25, hanged March 18, 1988 for his role in killing a 'suspected informer' in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth, in October 1985.
Sipho Mahala, 21, hanged March 29, 1988 and Siphiwe Lande, 22, hanged April 14, 1988. Mahala and Lande were sentenced to death for a necklace killing in 1985. Ndumiso Silo Siphenuka, 25 and Makhezwene Menze, 44, who were both hanged April 20, 1989.
Menze and Siphenuka were part of a group of UDF supporters convicted of the killing of a farmer and his wife at Kirkwood on June 17, 1985.
Welile Raymond Gwebushe, 29, was hanged on August 19, 1987.