Thando Nondlwana

By Thando Nondywana

News Reporter

Families of 21 MK operatives still grapple with losing loved ones

Decades after apartheid, families of MK operatives mourn the loss and recount their struggle for closure.

More than three decades after the end of apartheid, families of 21 former uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) operatives still grapple with the pain of loss and memories of those who were victims of apartheid’s brutality.

Themba Kubheka, whose brother Thabo Rammutla left in 1982 to join the armed struggle, said it was a sombre moment.

“He was still in school and had never mentioned about joining the military wing. We later found that he had crossed the border via Botswana to join the struggle,” Kubheka recalled.

Remains found with unidentified bodies in Limpopo

Rammutla’s remains were found with six other unidentified bodies in Limpopo and reburied in 2019 in GaRankuwa, north of Pretoria.

“It has been a long journey. He was the last to be identified using DNA analysis of my father. It is sombre because my mother died with a heart longing to see her child,” he said.

ALSO READ: ‘We will never forget their sacrifice’ – Mashatile honours fallen former MK operatives

Between 1986 and 1989, the 21 former MK operatives were brutally murdered and some abducted by apartheid security forces throughout the country and buried in unmarked graves and others in bushes.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s Missing Persons’ Task Team traced the remains found in unmarked graves, conducted DNA analysis, exhumed and reburied the remains of the ex-combatants.

Lauded for their sacrifices and determination

Deputy President Paul Mashatile lauded the MK operatives for their sacrifices and determination towards the struggle for liberation.

At a commemoration ceremony yesterday, Mashatile said: “Today is one of those important and historic moments that must go down in the annals of history and we are reminded of the bravery of these individuals, who felt a deep obligation to serve and act in the interest of what was best for the country in the fight for liberation.

“They demonstrated courage and strength in the face of adversity, showing unwavering in the most difficult situations.”

ALSO READ: ‘Don’t go that side’ – Lesufi to train 3,000 MK vets to fight crime in Gauteng

Zanele Nyembe was the last person to see her brother Vusimuzi Nyembe alive, after he left with Teboho “Tsietsi” Mashinini in 1976, and died in 1984 during a mission in Ntuzuma, KwaZulu-Natal.

An emotional Nyembe said although they found his remains in 2011, the memories for the family were still raw.

“I recall the police coming to inform my father that they had found my brother’s remains and would not reveal where he was buried,” she said.

“As I sat there I could imagine him walking through the door, that’s why I got so emotional. We were like friends, he was so smart.”

Died a hero

According to the Missing Persons’ Task Team, he died a hero. He was shot in the knee but he took his last bullet by shooting himself in the head so that they wouldn’t claim victory.

ALSO READ: ‘Political opportunism’ – Family rejects Zuma’s planned visit to Peter ‘Dambuza’ Malada’s burial site

Nyembe said that the government has not done the right thing by the families of the freedom fighters.

“We last heard from them when they installed the graves in 2011 and then they forgot about us,” she said.

“The money we got was little. We do feel let down. We have families that are struggling. They have never taken into account that these people had families.”

Mashatile admitted that this was a challenge the families were trying to resolve with the establishment of the Presidential Task Team on Military Veterans.

“That’s the reason the president set up the task team because we see the gap,” said Mashatile.

ALSO READ: ‘The ANC owns uMkhonto weSizwe’ − Mavuso Msimang

“You recall that immediately after liberation, we focused mainly on combatants who were coming back to the country. We integrated them into various programmes but those who died and fell in the war, their families didn’t get any assistance.”

He said this will be rolled out throughout the country.