South Africa's ugly past under spotlight

Bodies of young men last seen alive at the home of Nelson Mandela's estranged wife exhumed.

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    It was under an uncharacteristic overcast African sky that the exhumations took place, with family members singing hymns, the yellow, black and green banners of the governing African National Congress fluttering in the wind.

    Yet the families of Lolo Sono and Siboniso Tshabalala didn't join in the ANC chants on this bitter-sweet day. If, as expected, the DNA samples from the skeletons uncovered prove the identities of the two men, any hope - however faint - that they are still alive is gone.

    Both Sono and Tshabalala were anti-apartheid activists and they had spoken of fleeing the country to be trained in one of the camps of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the ANC's armed wing). But in the dying days of apartheid resistance fighters were paranoid about police informers in their ranks and when suspicion fell on someone, they rarely walked away alive.

    In November 1988 Sono and Tshabalala were accused of being informers, rounded up by the Mandela United Football Club and killed. The club was a front for the politicisation of Soweto's youth - some members stayed at the home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who was implicated at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in both their deaths.

    Still a popular member of the ANC, she has never been questioned and has always denied knowing the pair.

    At the TRC Tshabalala's mother accused Madikizela-Mandela of killing her son - but today she wouldn't talk to reporters.

    When I spoke to John Sono, Lolo's uncle, he was happy to talk about getting some peace of mind, but an ANC official was glued to his side. He told me the family shouldn't be put under more stress and that the questions must end.

    I asked John if he wanted justice and he said that "one is still too far, we need to talk about that" before the official put his hand out to cut us off, insisting that it was an unfair question that couldn't be answered.

    It was a moment in which so much went unsaid but it's a conversation many think must be had. The ANC didn't escape the TRC unscathed. Neither did Madikizela-Mandela nor, of course, the apartheid government which inflicted so much brutality for decades, driving people to fight back and, sometimes, turn on each other.

     


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