A North West heavyweight lawyer representing the anti-apartheid struggle hero John Beaver (JB) Marks’s blood relatives has sent an urgent letter to President Jacob Zuma and Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to cease from proceeding with the unveiling ceremony of the hero’s R4 million statue in Ventersdorp on Saturday.
Attorney Hans Jurie Moolman, of Moolman and Pienaar Attorneys, demands Zuma, Mthethwa and the Office of the Premier of North West Supra Mahumapelo and other government departments clarify who granted them authorisation to effect the exhumation and repatriation of JB’s remains, allegedly without his late brother Benjamin Marks’ family’s consent.
A letter seen by The Citizen from Moolman addressed to the presidency, Mthethwa and Mahumapelo’s office states, “we hereby request your written undertaking by close of business today (Thursday), that the unveiling of the grave and or any accompanying ceremony will not be performed up until our clients have been satisfied with documentary proof that a legal process was followed and that all necessary permissions, insofar as their family is concerned, were obtained. Should our clients’ request not be adhered to, we are instructed to approach the high court for an appropriate interdict on the premises of the absence of the proof as required.”
The former ANC leader and SA Communist Party (SACP) chairperson JB and the former general secretary of the SACP and the treasurer-general of the ANC Moses Kotane died in Russia and were buried at Novodevichy Cemetery, in Moscow, a cemetery for famous Russians.
Zuma’s office announced the repatriation after his working visit to the Russian Federation and meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The process was led by Mthethwa, and the heroes were reburied in their hometowns in March 2015.
Benjamin’s granddaughter Matilda Marks maintains government acted without their permission.
“We want to know who gave them permission to bring his remains, because we were not informed about it. We only found out about it on TV,” said Matilda on behalf of her family.
The government led the process with Wakeel Marks’ family, who are not “Oom JB’s blood relatives; therefore, they cannot make crucial decisions on behalf of the family”.
SACP North West secretary Madoda Sambatha, Cosatu’s national deputy general secretary, Solly Phetoe, ANC North West secretary Dakota Legoete, and former North West MEC of arts and culture Tebogo Modise held a meeting with both families to get to the root of the problem.
Maltida said: “We requested that DNA tests be conducted on all families to authenticate the real Marks. But Wakeel and his cousin Roswyn Marks refused … The officials at the meeting said we should permit the reburial to go ahead, and the matter will be resolved afterwards. But nothing happened. Again, we learnt through the media that there’s an unveiling of our grandfather’s statue on March 25.”
Apparently they were not included in the overall processes involving JB, but are invited like ordinary guests.
“We are tired and have had enough of this. We want to stop this whole thing. They brought him back home and are now causing us so much pain every day. We feel our government is using our grandfather’s name as a business transaction and they don’t care about us,” said Matilda.
Wakeel’s cousin, Roswyn, requested The Citizen send questions in writing, but a day later, he alleged the ANC and current MEC of arts and culture Ontlametse Mochwari said all questions should be directed to them.
“They know all the problems about this matter.”
Zuma’s spokesperson Dr Bongani Nqgulunga referred all questions to Mthethwa’s office. Mthethwa’s spokesperson Zimasa Velaphi said the request for repatriation was made by Wakeel on behalf of his late grandfather Matthew’s wife, Maria.
“Stella Marks, who is the stepdaughter of JB Marks, was also consulted. Government also consulted other family members in Ventersdorp and Gauteng and consulted everyone who indicated they were blood relatives at the time,” said Velaphi.
Velaphi said Wakeel acted as representative for his family and reported in several meetings of the steering committee that was established to coordinate the repatriation process and briefing with family members. Velaphi maintained “the department of arts and culture was not requested to conduct blood tests”.
However, Matilda said Mthethwa’s office was mistaken that Stella was JB’s stepdaughter.
Speaking on behalf of the SACP, Sambatha said Matilda’s family brought their grievance to them and he tried to intervene. Sambatha added the families were asked to wait until the reburial and that the department of arts and culture was supposed to mediate and establish the rightful Marks afterwards, “But to our shock, the department of arts and culture did nothing about that.”
Mochware’s acting HOD, Jimmy Tsietsi Mawelela, said both families would be recognised and government would work with them and discussions were ongoing to reach an amicable decision in terms of who was the rightful family.
Russian Embassy press officer Alexander Kulyaev said they were not involved in discussions with the families and therefore declined to comment.