Address by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, MP, (Adv) on the occasion of the handing over of exhumed remains of 14 POQO political activists, Bhaziya Village Mthatha, 11 February 2017
Premier of the Eastern Cape; Mr Phumulo Masualle
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans; Mr Kebby Maphatsoe
Eastern Cape MEC for Sports Arts and Recreation; Miss Pemmy Majodina
Acting King of Abathembu; King Zanelizwe Dalindyebo
Families of our departed patriots
Chief of Mphuthi village; Chief Minenkulu Joyi
PAC President; Mr Mpinda
Chairperson of Apla Military Veterans; Mr Raymond Fihla
Members of Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA)
Ladies and Gentlemen
Three weeks ago, on 21 January 2017, I had the privilege for the 3rd time, of participating in the annual event of commemorating the life and contribution of Kgosi Mampuru II in Limpopo. This was in recognition 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.
We relived his brutal execution which was even reported as far as the United States when 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 used 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.”
At 6h00 am, on 6th April 1979, a young heroic son of our revolutionary struggle 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 Bhekaphantsi Vulindlela thereby mercilessly ending his life.
This sombre occasion should remind us of the words of the first President of the PAC, the late Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe during the launch of the PAC in April 1959 at Orlando Community Hall in Soweto when he said “Here is a tree rooted in African soil, nourished with waters from the rivers of Afrika. Come and sit under its shade and become, with us, the leaves of the same branch and the branches of the same tree”.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are here today, at the birthplace of the late Apla Commander Sabelo Gqwetha-Phama, 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. To you families of our departed comrades, after travelling hundreds of kilometres from this Mphuthi village 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 sombre occasion for your loved ones. We must remind ourselves of the life and times of other struggle heroes and heroines who made ultimate sacrifices so that we can enjoy this freedom.
SILAPHA EBHAZIYA NAMHLANJE UZONIKEZELA LAMATHAMBO OONYANA BESIZWE SISITHI KUNI, NANI NIBALULEKILE KURHULUMENTE OPHETHEYO NGENXA YEGALELO LALAMAQHAWE KWINKULULEKO YELILIZWE.
We salute these cadres as dedicated opponents of racism, Apartheid and colonial domination, the same way we salute the late Chief of Staff of MK Chris Hani, who hails from Cofimvaba which is a mere 120 kms from here. Cofimvaba also gave birth to the last Commander in Chief of Apla and President of the PAC the late Clarence Makwetu uZikhali Mazembe.
This friendly province of the Eastern Cape gave birth to a litany of giants of our liberation struggle, oTatu Walter Sisulu waseNgcobo, former President Thabo Mbeki and his father uTatu Govan Mbeki baseDutywa, OR Tambo waseBizana noTatu Rholihlahla Mandela eQunu. NDIYATHEMBA UKUBA NIYAZINGCA NGALONTO.
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. As ANC led government we recognize the important role played by other liberation movements like Azapo and the PAC in the struggle for liberating our people.
Allow me to give an account of how these cadres ended up on death row. Apartheid government banned the PAC soon after the Sharpeville and Langa massacres in March 1960. The PAC set up POQO, described in Mayihlome News as liberation army that used traditional methods to fight in defence of the people from being mowed down by the merciless security apparatus. On 5 February 1963, a large group of about sixty Poqo members from this village launched an attack on a road construction camp beside the Mbashe River on the road between Mthatha and Engcobo. The five occupants of two caravans at the camp were attacked and killed. Mr Derek Thompson was burnt to death inside his caravan, while Mr Norman Grobbelaar, his wife Elizabeth and two teenage daughters Dawn and Edna were hacked to death.
Following the attack, large numbers of local residents were arrested and charged. Thirteen Mputhi residents were sentenced to death and of these, twelve were hanged on the same day, 3 July 1964. While the gallows only accommodated seven individuals at a time, they were hanged in two groups on the same day. The first group was hanged at 6h00 am and the second group at 6.45 am. Among those hanged were five members of the Vulindlela family, including eighteen year old Mbhekaphantsi Vulindlela.
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 being. 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, Royal House of Chief Joyi, OR Tambo and KSD Municipalities, Ekurhuleni Metro, Missing Persons Task Team and our TRC unit 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 OTYHOPHO, OXHAMELA ONOKWINDLA OMGCINA, ONTSHILIBE, NOJOLINKOMO, OMQADI, OMQWAMBI, OMGEBE, OCEDUMA NOZIZI.
I thank you.